Accused of lying to police, US actor Jussie Smollett takes the stand

Accused of lying to police, US actor Jussie Smollett takes the stand
Actor Jussie Smollett at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Jussie Smollett has taken the witness stand at his trial where he is facing charges accusing him of staging a racist, anti-gay attack on himself and lying to Chicago police about it.

The actor who starred on the TV show Empire will share his account of what happened in January 2019 in an attempt to refute damaging testimony from two brothers who testified last week.

They said Smollett, who is gay and black, orchestrated the hoax to get publicity, giving them 100 dollars for supplies and instructing them to place a noose around his neck and yell homophobic slurs. They also said Smollett paid them 3,500 dollars to carry it out.

Attorney Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez with her clients Abimbola Osundairo, left, and Olabinjo Osundairo (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Defence attorneys have suggested the brothers were motivated to accuse Smollett of staging the hoax because they disliked the performer and then saw an opportunity to make money.

They suggested that after the brothers, Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo, were questioned by police about the alleged attack, they asked Smollett for one million dollars each to not testify against him at trial.

Smollett’s lawyers also have argued that Chicago police rushed to judgment when they brought charges against Smollett, and suggested a third person may have been involved in the attack.

On the witness stand, Smollett told the jury how he grew up in a close-knit family of six children and started performing as a child actor before getting more into music.

He said he “came to terms with my sexuality” in his early 20s, when he got involved in charity organisations, including a group that fights Aids in the black community.

He said he auditioned for a role on Empire of a singer who is gay because he had never seen a black man portrayed that way.

Prosecutors say Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with the Empire studio’s response to hate mail he received.

The letter including a drawing of a stick figure hanging by a noose, with a gun pointed at it, and the word Maga — an apparent reference to then-president Donald Trump’s slogan, Make America Great Again.

The Osundairo brothers testified that Smollett told them to yell “this is Maga country” during the fake assault.

Brett Mahoney, who produced Empire in Chicago, testified earlier on Monday that Smollett called him after the hate mail was sent to the set.

“We were obviously all very upset about the letter,” Mr Mahoney said, adding that law enforcement was contacted and the letter turned over to authorities.

He said Smollett agreed to added on-set security, but did not want anyone following him home because he felt it was too intrusive.

Smollett, 39, is charged with six counts of felony disorderly conduct for making what prosecutors say was a false police report about the alleged attack — one count for each time he gave a report — to three different officers.

The class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said if Smollett is convicted he likely would be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.

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