After a series of delays, the trial for former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett has finally begun. The performer is charged with six felony counts of filing a false police report in connection with his claim that he was the victim of a racial and homophobic assault in the Chicago area in 2019.
Cook County Judge James Linn is presiding over the proceedings, which could last through the entire week. WGN-TV reported:
A grand jury, empaneled by special prosecutor Dan Webb, brought the charges against Smollett in February 2020 — about a year after the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office moved to quickly dismiss the initial set of charges leveled against Smollett.
On Monday, the jury will be selected to determine whether Smollett concocted an elaborate hate crime hoax in Streeterville. WGN-TV reported:
The case gripped the city when it was first thrust into public view. Smollett, a Black and gay actor on the Fox series “Empire,” told Chicago police that he was attacked by two masked men in the middle of a frigid night after he left a Subway restaurant.
Smollett said his attackers used homophobic and racial slurs while putting a noose around his neck, with one of the assailants telling him, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to former President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.
Police soon became suspicious of Smollett’s story, and the actor became a suspect, charged with filing a false police report. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself from the cases to “address questions of impartiality.”
However, shortly after, the charges against the actor were summarily dropped with little explanation. The City of Chicago filed a federal lawsuit against Smollett to recoup the funds spent investigating his assault claim.
But Smollett was still not off the hook because Cook County Judge Michael Toomin appointed Dan Webb – former U.S. Attorney for Illinois’ Northern District – as special prosecutor to determine whether the state’s attorney’s office had engaged in wrongdoing when it dropped the charges. A grand jury later indicted the actor in February 2020.
The Associated Press reported:
Smollett is accused of lying to police about the alleged attack and has been 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.
It is not yet known if Smollett will testify in the trial. But the Osundairo siblings, alleged to have helped him stage the hate crime, are set to take the stand to repeat the testimony they gave to law enforcement. When being questioned, the brothers claimed Smollett paid them to carry out the fraudulent assault.
From the AP:
Jurors also may see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras that police reviewed to trace the brothers’ movements before and after the reported attack, as well as a video showing the brothers purchasing a red hat, ski masks and gloves from a beauty supply shop hours earlier.
The actor’s attorneys have not yet given a glimpse of their strategy for defending their client, but the AP noted that “there are clues as to how they might” mount a defense. “Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department 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,” according to the report.
This woman told a detective that when this man turned away from her, she “could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope.”
It is possible that the defense could use the testimony to bolster Smollett’s claim that one of the attackers placed a makeshift noose around his neck after the assault. If she were to testify that the man was white, it could back up the actor’s claim that white men in MAGA hats assaulted him.
Tina Glandian, one of Smollett’s attorneys, suggested in a March 2019 interview that one of the Osundairo brothers could have applied white makeup around his eyes to trick Smollett into believing he was white. The AP explained:
To address skepticism on the jury, Glandian could ask the brothers about a video she talked about on the program that she said shows one of them in whiteface reciting a monologue by the Joker character from a movie.
It seems the defense plans to argue that Smollett was fooled into believing he was being attacked by white MAGA supporters when he was really being assaulted by two black men in whiteface. The argument could be that they are only claiming that the actor paid them for the attack so that they would not be prosecuted.
It is a rather shaky defense. But given the circumstances, it might be the only defense Smollett’s attorneys could attempt to persuade a jury. But another weakness is a $3,500 check that the entertainer gave to the brothers allegedly to stage the encounter. However, the defense will likely argue this was a payment for personal training sessions.
“I would assume the defense is going to zero in on that,” said Joe Lopez, a defense attorney told the AP. “If they texted messages regarding training sessions, checks he (Smollett) wrote them for training, photographs, the defense would use all of that.”
This trial will be rather interesting to watch, given that the defense has an uphill battle that appears to be the legal equivalent to scaling Mt. Everest using a dinner fork. If Smollett is convicted, he could face up to three years in prison. Some have already speculated that he might get off with probation and community service because he does not have a prior criminal record, and he happens to be wealthy.
But if he is convicted, it is possible that those seeking to carry out fake hate crimes might think twice. Moreover, it will cause more Americans to further doubt the veracity of hate crime claims when they become national news. Perhaps this will be healthy for the conversation on race issues because it will make it that much more difficult to use these situations to foment more racial animus, especially since many high-profile leftists jumped on the opportunity to use this story for race-baiting purposes when it first hit the airwaves. If the outcome of this trial results in more Americans distrusting the left with these narratives, it will be a net positive for the U.S.