The Jussie Smollett trial continues in Chicago. Yesterday, one of the brothers accused of launching the attack on the Empire actor denied being homophobic, saying he’d worked in a gay club as a bouncer. He’d also worked as a “Trojan Warrior” at a Pride festival, giving out condoms.
In a further twist, Smollett’s defense team also tried to call a mistrial, claiming the judge lunged at one of the attorneys during a sidebar meeting.
Smollett, an actor and singer, faces several counts of disorderly conduct for lying to the police. It relates to an alleged hate crime he says he suffered in January 2019.
He claims he was beaten up by two men in masks. The men who took part in the attack, Nigerian brothers Abimbola ‘Abel’ and Olabinjo ‘Ola’ Osundairo, say the whole thing was staged and initiated by Smollett.
Both Abel and Ola took the stand this week, with Abel giving four hours of testimony on Wednesday, followed by brother Ola on Thursday.
Smollett’s attorneys have suggested Ola was partly motivated to take part in the attack because he’s homophobic. They point to social media posts on the brothers’ phones which they say contain homophobic language, and reference gay men as “fruits.”
The defense claim the brothers are “sophisticated criminals” who set the attack up after pretending to befriend Smollett. The brothers deny this, saying the whole thing was the actor’s idea.
Here are some key points from the brothers’ testimonies over the last couple of days
• Ola Osundairo denies the defense team’s claims he is homophobic, pointing to the fact he worked as a bouncer in a gay club in Boystown between 2015 and 2018. He also brought a photo of himself at Chicago Pride in 2015, where he said he was a “Trojan Warrior”, giving out condoms and flexing his muscles for the crowd. “I have no hate for anybody,” he told the jury.
• Smollett’s team claim Ola’s brother, Abel, was having a sexual relationship with Smollett. Abel denied this. He admitted he acted as a middle-man in helping to get drugs (“weed, cocaine and molly”) for Smollett, and that the two men had visited strip clubs and a Chicago bathhouse together.
• Smollett’s defense team asked Abel, “When did you and Jussie start dating?” and if he remembered the time he and Smollett, “masturbated in a bathhouse” together. Abel replied, “What? We were never dating,” saying he’d simply wanted to befriend Smollett by hanging out with him.
• Smollett’s team asked Abel if he was using the sexual tension between him and Smollett to further his career. Abel said he wasn’t aware of any sexual tension. He said he was not gay and Smollett had never initiated sexual contact with him. When asked why he’d agreed to take part in the allegedly faked attack, he replied, “We were friends.”
• The brothers say Smollett came up with the idea for the hate-crime, and they went along with it because they felt like they owed him and wanted to continue to curry favor with him. They said Smollett had helped Abel get a walk-on part on Empire and he’d picked up the tab when they’d partied together.
• The brothers allege Smollett just wanted to influence producers of Empire: The actor received a piece of hate mail, which he felt the producers had not taken seriously. They thought Smollett was also staging it for media purposes, and say they had no idea he was going to report it as a hate crime to police.
• Olabinjo says the plan was for him to pour bleach over Smollett and put a noose around his neck, and for brother Abel to fake punch the actor. He said the initial plan was to use gasoline but Smollett dismissed this idea as too extreme. “He wanted us to say, ‘aren’t you that ‘Empire’ f***** n*****’ and ‘this is MAGA country,'” Ola testified. “He pretty much said he wanted to be bruised up so it looked like he was in a real fight.”
Attempts to call for a mistrial
On Thursday afternoon, in a separate, unexpected development, one of Smollett’s attorneys called for a mistrial. Tamara Walker attempted several times to question Ola over the interpretation of social media posts that Smollett’s team says prove the brother is homophobic.
Cook County Criminal Judge James Lin repeatedly warned Walker that her specific line of argument was unrelated to the matters at hand. Linn asked the jury to leave the room and called for a sidebar between himself and the defense and prosecutors. This led to a heated exchange.
According to CBS Chicago, “Walker asked for a mistrial because of a comment that Judge Linn made, and then she began crying and accused Judge Linn of physically lunging at her in the courtroom.”
Linn dismissed the motion.
“There is no mistrial here… frankly I’m stunned,” Linn responded.
After taking a few moments to cool down, Walker continued to question Ola on the stand. The defense team asked for it to be noted on the court record that Linn was making “snarling faces” at Walker.
When the trial began on Monday, Judge Linn said he expected it to last a week.