Sex, drugs, and lies. We sorta knew this was coming.
Jussie Smollett took the stand in his own defense Monday at the criminal trial over whether the actor staged a hoax hate crime involving a noose as part of a dispute with his old employer in 2019. The testimony was the culmination of a saga that began with Smollett’s Trump-era call for help after he claimed “MAGA” goons targeted him, only for cops to turn the tables on the erstwhile Empire star and say he made it all up.
“I’m a Black man in America and I do not trust police,” Smollett said during testimony that later included his defense attorney telling him before the jury, “your fate is in their hands.”
Smollett’s testimony on Monday was clearly designed to discredit the Osundairo brothers, two Black men who count as the prosecution’s star witnesses and claim Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage an attack against him. But beyond a steadfast denial of the charges against him, it had little to do with themes of racial or social justice, and often felt more like an episode of the Fox show that made him famous.
Among other highlights, Smollett claimed on the stand that he had a sexual relationship with Abimbola Osundairo. Abimbola—who had been an extra on the set of Empire—denied that in his own testimony.
According to Smollett, Abimbola—who he referred to as “Bon” during his testimony—met him at a VIP section of a Chicago nightclub during season 4 of Empire. That same night, he claimed, the two indulged in cocaine and weed, followed by a steam session that involved gay porn being played in a bathhouse where they “did more drugs and we, like, made out. There was some touching.”
Smollett claimed it was his first time at Steamworks, a bathhouse in the Boystown area of Chicago.
“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 said.
This testimony represented a major blow at the credibility of Abimbola, who previously claimed that the two never had a sexual relationship and were just friends. Last week, Abimbola admitted that he had gone to the bathhouse with Smollett when he was cross-examined by defense attorneys—but testified that he didn’t recall seeing any pornography being played. (Smollett also claimed that the two continued to reconnect off the Empire set and partake in weed and cocaine, with Abimbola being the supplier of the latter for him and others who were part of the show.)
“It’s part of my relaxing process,” Smollett told the jury about smoking blunts in his car with Abimbola. “I think that the car is probably the best place to listen to your music to be by yourself to be inspired."
These details were spicy and perfect for a gossip column. And Smollett did seem to bolster the general notion that he had no motive for staging an attack, claiming at length that he was happy on the show.
But as someone who covered the alleged attack when it first took place, I was left wondering: What do any of these details have to do with explaining exactly why these men would do this to him?
After all, while the defense has pointed to at least one witness telling police they may have seen a white man in proximity to the attack, Smollett’s best shot at getting off seems clear. He has to convince the jury that these men may have attacked him of their own accord. (According to his defense, that might have been to intimidate him into hiring them as security.)
OK, so one of the Osundairo brothers might not have been entirely forthcoming with how close he was with Smollett. I’m still trying to figure out how all of this is supposed to convince us that the two of them chose to independently buy bleach, a noose, and brave the cold Chicago polar vortex to attack Smollett at 2 a.m.
Seriously, one would assume that if these men were so connected, the brothers would have carried out their alleged personal grievances a little more strategically. If anything, the testimony read to me like an affirmation that the relationship between the three men was anything but innocent.
Perhaps, as the Sun-Times suggested, part of the idea for the smoke- weed-and-drive testimony was to help explain circumstantial evidence pointing to Smollett having driven around the location of the attack in the days prior. But it often seemed to descend into the trivial and absurd.
When Special Prosecutor Dan Webb began to cross-examine Smollett late Monday, things got even dicier for the actor.
Throughout his testimony, Smollett made it a point to interject his personal social-justice politics into the mix to explain why he didn’t cooperate with the police. But the moment he chose to speak with them about his attack, he was in fact calling on the police for help. Then, when the authorities asked for Smollett’s phone and DNA information to help them get to the bottom of his alleged hate crime, he refused, at least in part.
Webb asked Smollett why he withheld details—and if it was because it would incriminate him or else tie him to the Osundairo brothers.
Smollett’s response: “There was no reason to be concerned about the Osundairo brothers, because what happened to me happened, so there was nothing to hide.”
When asked why he only provided phone records for a short period surrounding the incident in question, including leaving out a call he claimed Abimbola made to him prior, he was defiant.
“At that point I’m thinking [Abimbola] had nothing to do with it, so why would I include his phone?”
But why leave out anything at all when you have nothing to hide?
In one sense, I could never fully trust anyone who would openly acknowledge that they would accept payment to falsify a hate crime, as the brothers have done. But Smollett managed to say a lot during his testimony without saying much of anything at all, besides that there was no hoax.
Had sexual relations with one of them? OK, interesting.
Did drugs with him as well? Damn, that’s wild.
But how do you explain that the planning of this alleged attack had nothing to do with you at all?
On that front, I’m still waiting for answers.