Jussie Smollett trial begins nearly three years after alleged hate crime hoax

The trial of former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett moved quickly after it began on Monday, with prosecutors expected to call their first witness on Tuesday.

Smollett reported that he was the victim of a racist, homophobic attack in Chicago nearly three years ago. Although it is unclear whether Smollett will take the stand in his own defense, the trial is expected to only last a weak.

Smollett is facing charges over what authorities have deemed a fake attack. In the early morning of January 2019, Smollett reported to police that he was walking home when two men recognized him and began shouting racial and homophobic slurs. Smollett said the men hit him, wrapped a noose around his neck, and shouted, “This is MAGA country.”

A few weeks later, Smollett was charged with staging the attack in order to advance his career and obtain a higher salary. According to police, he hired two brothers for $3,500 to pretend to attack him. In his opening statement, special prosecutor Dan Webb said the two men were hired to carry out the incident by Smollett, who then reported the attack to Chicago police. The event was classified as a hate crime, and the police staff spent 3,000 hours on the investigation.

Webb told jurors, “It’s just plain wrong for Mr. Smollett to denigrate something as serious as a hate crime.” He also said Smollett hired his friend Bola Osundairo and his brother Ola to stage the attack, and the trio had a “dress rehearsal” when Smollett told the brothers to shout the insults and “MAGA,” as well as buy ski masks, red hats, and a rope.

The prosecution added that Smollett and the Osundairos exchanged several phone calls and messages in the days leading up to the incident. A video allegedly shows Smollett picking up the brothers and driving to Streeterville to practice.

The defense has argued that there was nothing falsified about the attack, and the Osundairos were characterized by attorney Nenye Uche as “sophisticated, highly intelligent criminals.” Uche also said “weapons of war” were found in their apartment including several guns, ammunition, and heroin.

A friend of Smollett’s, Gina Belafonte commented, saying, “The truth will come through, and the public will also hear the actual facts of the case and not the fabrications.”

Smollett currently faces six counts of disorderly conduct. The charge is a class 4 felony that carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison, but many say that if Smollett is convicted, he will likely be placed on probation. 

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