Jussie Smollett’s attorney said in opening statements at the ex-Empire actor’s trial Monday that he “is a real victim” of a “real crime,” rejecting prosecutors’ claim that he staged a homophobic and racist attack in Chicago.
Two brothers attacked Smollett in January 2019 because they didn’t like him, according to defense attorney Nenye Uche, and a $3,500 check the actor gave the men was for training so he could prepare for an upcoming music video, not for staging a hate crime, as prosecutors claim. Uche also suggested that a third assailant was involved, and he told jurors that there isn’t a “shred” of physical or forensic evidence linking Smollett to the alleged crime.
Uche stated, “Jussie Smollett is a true victim.”
According to special prosecutor Dan Webb, the actor enlisted the brothers’ assistance in staging a phony attack, which he then reported to Chicago police, who classified it as a hate crime and spent 3,000 staff hours investigating. Smollett claimed he was attacked by Trump supporters, a report that sparked political and ideological divisions across the country.
It is unclear whether Smollett, who is Black and gay, will testify. The siblings, on the other hand, will testify. Jurors may also see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras used by police to track the brothers’ movements before and after the alleged attack, as well as a video showing the brothers buying supplies hours before the alleged attack.
A statement from a resident says she saw a white man with “reddish brown hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night, buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago police department reports. She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see what appeared to be a rope hanging out from underneath his jacket.”
Her words could bolster Smollett’s claim that his assailants hung a makeshift noose around his neck. Furthermore, if she testified that the man was white, it would back up Smollett’s claims that he saw pale or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked attackers, which have been widely mocked because the brothers are Black.
The trial is scheduled to last a week.