CHICAGO — Prosecutors in the criminal trial of former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett rested their case Thursday evening following the testimony of the two star witnesses in the case, two body-building brothers who were allegedly recruited by Smollett to carry out a phony hate crime attack on a frigid night in January 2019.
All told, the special prosecutor’s office — led by former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb — called seven witnesses over three days of testimony: five police officers who were involved in the investigation, as well as Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo.
Both Osundairo brothers testified at length that Smollett recruited them to take part in a fake hate crime to garner media attention.
“He said he would want us to yell out racial and homophobic slurs at him,” Olabinjo Osundairo said. “He wanted us to say, ‘Aren’t you that ‘Empire’ f—– n—-,’ and ‘This is MAGA country,’” a reference to former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Thursday’s proceedings featured the most dramatic moments of the trial so far, with palpable tension between Cook County Judge James Linn and Tamara Walker, one of Smollett’s defense attorneys, on display.
During her questioning of Olabinjo Osundairo, Walker asked Linn for a sidebar to discuss something out of earshot from the jury. Linn said no, but he agreed after Walker asked once more. Linn dismissed the jury, and then Walker and the other Smollett attorneys asked Linn for a mistrial.
Linn quickly denied the motion and returned to his bench, but Walker then said the judge “did physically lunge at me,” to which Linn responded, “I did nothing of the sort.” Another of Smollett’s attorneys, Heather Widell, also told Linn that he was visibly “snarling” at the defense team from the bench.
After the prosecution rested, Widell motioned for a direct verdict of not guilty, though Linn also denied that motion, saying there was “ample, ample” evidence for the jury to consider.
Smollett’s attorneys have sought to demonstrate that the Osundairo brothers harbored homophobic resentments and that their attack on Smollett was sincere.
Just before 6 p.m., Smollett’s defense team called their first witness in the case, Brandon Moore, Smollett’s former music manager who was on the phone with Smollett when the alleged attack occurred. Linn has allowed trial proceedings to continue into the night, and the trial is expected to last until early next week.
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.