CHICAGO — Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett took the witness stand in his own criminal trial Monday, forcefully denying any involvement in the alleged fake hate crime attack that thrust him into Chicago’s collective consciousness nearly three years ago.
Smollett’s testimony came during the fifth day of his trial at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse. He was first questioned by his attorney Nenye Uche on direct examination and then by Dan Webb, of the special prosecutor’s office, on cross-examination.
Much of Smollett’s testimony directly contradicted that of Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, the prosecution’s star witnesses, who testified last week that Smollett recruited them to stage a phony hate on a frigid night in late January 2019.
Smollett asserted again Monday that he was the victim of a real hate crime and that he still has a scar on his face from the beating he sustained.
“Have you ever planned a hoax?” Uche, with his voice rising, asked near the conclusion of his examination.
“Never in my life,” Smollett answered, later adding that Abimbola Osundairo’s version of events was “fully false, 100% false.”
Testimony for the day concluded around 6 p.m. with Smollett still answering questions from Webb. Proceedings will resume shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday. Cook County Judge James Linn said jury deliberations could being on Wednesday.
On cross-examination, Webb first brought up Smollett’s refusal to share with police his DNA, cellphone and medical records.
“I cared more about my privacy, that’s the truth,” Smollett said.
Smollett was charged last year with six counts of disorderly conduct for reporting the allegedly phony hate crime to police in January 2019. Cinespace Studios on the West Side, where “Empire” was filmed received a threatening letter — targeting Smollett — in the mail and prosecutors say Smollett was unhappy with the studio’s response to the threat.
Smollett and Abimbola Osundairo both testified that the two were close friends in the months before the alleged hoax. Osundairo was a background actor on “Empire” and they were introduced through a mutual friend. Osundairo and Smollett would go to nightclubs and bath houses together on occasion, and Osundairo also procured recreational drugs for Smollett.
Osundairo denied any romantic relationship with Smollett, though Smollett on Monday testified that the two visited a Boystown bath house and engaged in mutual masturbation.
Prosecutors allege that, in the days before the alleged fake attack, Smollett texted Osundairo to ask for some help “on the low,” referring to the alleged hoax.
Smollett testified Monday that he was actually asking Osundairo to get him an herbal steroid — one that’s illegal in the United States — while Osundairo and his brother were in Nigeria.
Uche also asked Smollett how has career has fared in the nearly three years since the case garnered worldwide media attention.
“Did you gain anything from being attacked?” Uche asked. “Are you some George Clooney-type actor?”
“No,” Smollett answered. “I’ve lost my livelihood.”