Two brothers stand at the center of the case that prosecutors will lay before jurors when the trial of Jussie Smollett begins this week.
Jussie Smollett arrived in court on Monday to preside over jury selection on the first day of his highly anticipated trial.
The former “Empire” actor arrived at the court in a navy blue suit and wool coat to match a white dress shirt and gray striped tie underneath. He wore a black face mask as he arrived at the building with his arms linked to his family members to support him as he argued his innocence. His family members accompanied him into the courtroom, where they emotionally said goodbye and left him at the Defense table to watch the proceedings elsewhere in the building.
Seating within the courtroom is limited to accommodate the jury selection pool and requirements on social distancing due to COVID-19.
A Cook County judge has ordered that camera and press not be allowed inside the courtroom when Jussie Smollett’s trial kicks off Monday.
The primary judge, Judge James Linn, denied a request for extended media coverage/ At the time of his ruling last Friday, he did not immediately explain. Later explaining that there is “simply be no room in the court during jury selection.”
The former “Empire” actor contends he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault in downtown Chicago on a frigid night in January 2019. However, siblings Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who worked with him on the TV show, said he paid them $3,500 to pose at his attackers.
Smollett is accused of lying to police about the alleged attack and charged with felony disorderly conduct. A class 4 felony, the crime carries a sentence of up to three years in prison, but experts have said it is more likely that if Smollett is convicted, he would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service.
The former “Empire” star, 39, has been charged with lying to the police. He claimed he was targeted in a racist and anti-gay attack near his Chicago apartment in 2019.
The actor told police at the time that he was accosted while walking home and that two men began yelling racist and homophobic slurs, and that they shouted: “This is MAGA country.”
Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago police reports is a statement from a woman who lived in the area who says she saw a white man with “reddish-brown hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night. She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope.”
According to Smollett, the men then poured a bleach-like liquid on him and hung a noose around his neck.
However, brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo, extras on “Empire,” later told police that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the attack. They’re expected to be key witnesses at his trial.
The actor has maintained that he is innocent and paid for personal training, not to stage an attack.
Smollett was initially charged with disorderly conduct for reporting the allegedly staged confrontation, but that charge was dropped. He was indicted last year on six counts of disorderly conduct, all low-level felonies.
Prosecutors claimed that Smollett faked the attack because he was upset with the “Empire” studio, in part because of his pay.
Aside from the brothers, Smollett’s carer could take center stage. On one side, prosecutors could make the point that then-police superintendent Eddie Johnson made when he announced Smollett’s arrest in 2019: that Smollett thought the attack would gain him more fame and get him a raise on a hit TV show.