Actor Jussie Smollett took the stand in his own defense on Monday afternoon, adamantly denying allegations that he had staged a racist, anti-gay attack against himself.
“There was no hoax,” he told the jury in Chicago, Illinois.
Brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo had offered damning testimony last week, insisting that Smollett had written them a $3,500 check to carry out the fake attack in January 2019.
On Monday, Smollett claimed that he had “never” offered up money for the assault, telling jurors that he had written the check for nutrition and training advice from Abimbola, in part because he asked for it “upfront.” He also denied giving the brothers $100 to pay for supplies, including a rope to make a noose, for the hoax.
In his testimony, Smollett said he arrived at his apartment building from the airport at around 1:45 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2019. He was going to enter through a back doorway but couldn’t find his keys, he said. That’s when he heard someone yell “Empire!” at him from across the street, but he kept walking because he hears that “all the time,” Smollett testified.
Smollett said that after he heard the slurs “Empire f----t n----r!” he realized someone was coming at him. That masked person threw a punch that landed on his temples, he alleged.
“I would like to think that I landed a punch. But I know I threw one,” Smollett said.
The actor testified that he also remembered hearing words along the lines of “this is MAGA country.” He said he had assumed at least one of his attackers was white because of the slurs used and because the skin around their eyes through their ski mask appeared white.
Smollett said that after he slipped on the ice, the masked attackers ran off, and it wasn’t until he reached the top of the stairs to enter his apartment that he realized there was a noose hanging around his neck. He testified that it was his creative director who initially called police and that he had feared reporting the incident, believing that it might ruin his chances of landing certain roles after he “got his ass beat.”
“I am a Black man in America. I do not trust the police,” Smollett said. “I am also a well-known figure at that time and I am an openly gay man.”
Earlier in his testimony, Smollett had described his sexual relationship with one of the Osundairo brothers who has accused him of plotting the hate crime.
Smollett described first meeting Abimbola Osundairo in 2017 at a club while filming the fourth season of Empire. The pair did drugs at the club together and later visited a bathhouse, he said.
“We were in a club, you go to the bathroom, go to a stall, do a bump, do a bump, and then just kind of keep going in, and then we went to the bathhouse,” Smollett testified, adding that they did “more drugs and made out.”
The next time they met up, Abimbola was with his older brother, Olabinjo Osundairo, at a strip club. Smollett said he and Abimbola had to “sneak out” of that club to go to a gay bathhouse together, adding that he felt his relationship with Abimbola was something to keep quiet and not to “shine a light on” in Olabinjo’s presence.
“We went alone this time. We got a private room again, we did drugs and made out a little bit, and this time we masturbated together,” he said.
Although he said he was less familiar with Olabinjo, who had once been convicted of aggravated battery, Smollett said he was “creeped out” by him.
“Every time we were around him, he didn’t speak to me. Every time we needed to leave, he made it seem like we needed to sneak off,” Smollett said of Olabinjo.
When asked whether he could trust him, Smollett said, “I knew I couldn’t.”
Smollett took the stand just after noon on Monday, initially testifying about his humble childhood and the big bucks he eventually began making as a star on Empire. The actor has been accused of lying to police and charged with six counts of disorderly conduct on suspicion of making false reports to police in the assault case.
During the trial, which kicked off on Nov. 29, special prosecutor Daniel Webb claimed in opening statements that Smollett hatched a “secret plan” in January 2019, asking the Osundairo brothers to help him stage a racist and homophobic attack by Donald Trump supporters.
But defense attorneys have pushed back, suggesting that the brothers were motivated to target Smollett because they didn’t like him and realized they had a chance to make money when police asked them about the alleged attack. Smollett’s attorneys said the brothers approached Smollett for $1 million each not to testify against him during the trial.
Last week, the two brothers told a jury that the actor had paid them to carry out the hoax attack in Chicago, saying Smollett instructed them on lines to deliver and had paid for the rope that he asked them to twist into a noose around his neck. Abimbola denied having a sexual relationship with Smollett, testifying that he is heterosexual.
Prosecutors allege Smollett came up with the scheme because he was upset the Empire studio refused to take hate mail he had received seriously. But on Monday, Smollett insisted he had actually rejected the studio’s offers for additional security and said Abimbola had repeatedly insisted that he should become his security guard, which Smollett regarded as a “running joke.”
The Osundairo brothers alleged last week that before the incident, Smollett had asked the two men to conduct the fake attack in front of a surveillance camera and had hoped to post video of the assault to social media as part of a publicity stunt, they said.
Authorities asserted that texts and accounts from two people tied to the star supported allegations that Smollett had hired his attackers to boost his national profile.
But a defense lawyer for Smollett, Nenye Uche, said the rush to condemn Smollett has been misguided, arguing last week that the actor was a “real victim” of a “real crime” and that the $3,500 payment Smollett provided the two men was for training to prepare for an upcoming music video and was not money in exchange for faking a hate crime.
“Jussie Smollett is a victim—it’s a shame I have to say it,” Uche said at the time. “This rush to judgment has destroyed Jussie’s life.”