CHICAGO - All eyes were on the witness stand Monday as Jussie Smollett testified in his own defense. The former ‘Empire’ star insists he never planned or paid anyone to carry out a phony hate crime.
Testifying for nearly six hours, Smollett said he was the victim of a real attack in January 2019, describing it as "out of whack, like a Looney Tunes adventure."
Smollett faces six counts of felony disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police about the attack.
Smollett on Monday told jurors he never orchestrated a hoax, and did not pay the Osundairo brothers to execute one. Instead, the actor said the check for $3500 that he gave Bola Osundairo was to cover fitness and nutrition plans.
Asked by his defense attorney if he gave Osundairo payment for some kind of hoax, Smollett replied: "Never."
Attorney Nenye Uche asked again if he planned a hoax.
"No," Smollett said, "there was no hoax."
Days before the attack, when he texted Osundairo to meet "on the low," Smollett said he was referring to Osundairo getting him herbal steroids from Nigeria that weren’t legal in the U.S.
On the night of the alleged hate crime, Smollett said he was walking back to his Streeterville apartment after picking up food from Subway when he heard someone yell "Empire," followed by a series of racial and homophobic slurs. That’s when the actor said he turned around, to see someone running toward him.
Smollett said he was punched and kicked, suffering injuries, including a scar he still has under his left eye. Smollett said he didn’t realize there was rope around his neck until he was climbing the stairs toward his apartment building.
Smollett said he noticed one of the attackers had light skin underneath his ski mask, testifying that he believed he was white.
He also testified that he did not want to call police, telling the jury, "I am a Black man in America, I do not trust police." Additionally, Smollett said he felt contacting police would be "emasculating," especially since he had dreams of playing a boxer or superhero on TV. Smollett’s creative director called authorities anyway.
Smollett told the jury this entire ordeal has been "embarrassing," and "chaotic." He said he hasn’t gotten any major roles since the attack. "I’ve lost my livelihood," said Smollett.
Smollett’s defense attorney, Nenye Uche, wrapped up his direct examination just before 5 p.m. Monday.
During cross-examination, Special Prosecutor Dan Webb asked Smollett if at any point he decided to stop cooperating with police. Smollett admitted he did not turn his phone over when asked by a CPD detective, and refused to provide medical records, stating he felt these requests were an invasion of privacy.
Jurors were dismissed at 6 p.m. Monday. Cross-examination will resume at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday.
The defense also called Anthony Moore to the stand Monday. Moore was working as a security guard at a nearby hotel at the time of the alleged attack. Brett Mahoney, a show runner for ‘Empire,’ also testified.
The defense is expected to call at least one more witness to the stand. Judge Linn anticipates closing arguments will take place by Wednesday, Dec. 8.