Trial of actor Jussie Smollett, accused of faking hate crime, goes to jury

by Reuters
Thursday, 9 December 2021 00:09 GMT

Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett leaves court during his trial for six counts of disorderly conduct on suspicion of making false reports to police, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. December 8, 2021. REUTERS/Jim Vondruska

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Smollett, 39, who is Black and openly gay, faces six felony counts of disorderly conduct in US Court over accusations that he made false reports to the police

(Updates with jury gone for the day, adds closing arguments)

By Brendan O'Brien

CHICAGO, Dec 8 (Reuters) - A Chicago jury began deliberating on Wednesday in the trial of actor Jussie Smollett, a onetime star of the TV drama "Empire" who is accused of orchestrating a hate crime against himself to raise his celebrity profile.

Jurors heard closing arguments in the case and spent about 2-1/2 hours deliberating before being sent home for the day.

"Facts matter. Truth matters. Evidence still matters," prosecutor Sam Mendenhall told the panel in his summation. "Follow the evidence where it leads."

An attorney representing Smollett, Nenye Uche, said in his closing remarks that the prosecution's case against his client was "built like a house of cards."

"And we all know what happens to a house of cards when you apply a little pressure," Uche said, telling jurors to be "constitutional warriors" when they deliberate.

Smollett, 39, who is Black and openly gay, faces six felony counts of disorderly conduct in Cook County Circuit Court over accusations that he made false reports to the police.

He has denied faking the attack and pleaded not guilty in February 2020. He took the stand this week and told the jury that "there was no hoax," according to NBC.

The case became a touchstone in the culture wars inflamed during the presidency of Donald Trump.

Celebrities and others rushed to support Smollett when he first made the accusations in early 2019 that he was the victim of a hate crime and that his attackers had shouted: "This is MAGA country," a reference to Trump's slogan - "Make America Great Again."

Smollett told police he had been accosted on a darkened street by two masked strangers in January 2019. According to Smollett's account, his assailants threw a noose around his neck and poured chemicals on him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs and expressions of support for Trump.

A month later, police arrested Smollett, accusing him of paying two brothers $3,500 to stage the attack in a hoax aimed at gaining public sympathy and raising his show-business profile.

During his testimony on Monday, Smollett contradicted the testimony of two brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who told the court last week that Smollett paid them to stage a phony attack.

Smollett's acting career has faded since the incident. He lost his role as a singer-songwriter on "Empire," a Fox television hip-hop drama that ended a five-year run in 2020.

His case took an unexpected turn in the spring of 2019 when the Cook County state's attorney's office dropped a 16-count indictment against him in exchange for Smollett forfeiting his $10,000 bond without admitting wrongdoing.

The dismissal drew criticism from then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city's police superintendent, who called the reversal a miscarriage of justice. A five-month investigation concluded that prosecution of Smollett was warranted.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Additional reporting by Brad Brooks and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)

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