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Prosecution uses "hundreds of hours of video footage" to build case against Jussie Smollett

Webb told jurors that prosecutors have “hundreds of hours of video”

December 2, 2021 2:19pm

Updated: December 2, 2021 2:52pm

The criminal trial of Jussie Smollett began in Chicago Monday with the prosecution tapping the trove of security camera footage it will use to argue that he faked the hate crime he reported to police in 2019.

Smollett, 39, faces six counts of disorderly conduct for making false reports, which carries up to a three-year prison sentence. He was a star on the hit show Empire, which films in Chicago.

Special prosecutor Dan Webb told jurors that Smollett decided to stage the attack on himself after his studio brushed off a threatening fan letter he received while filming. The letter had a stick figure hanging from a tree and made a “MAGA” reference.

Smollett, who is black and gay, allegedly recruited Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, two Nigerian brothers who worked on the Empire set to stage a homophobic, racist attack on himself where they would beat him, pour bleach on him, and tie a noose around his neck. He planned the loud scuffle in front of a security camera near his apartment and hoped the footage would get the attention he desired from his producers, even meeting the brothers for a "dry run" the day before. 

The camera he chose did not capture the attack because it was facing the other way.

Webb told jurors that prosecutors have “hundreds of hours of video” from Chicago’s vast network of 32,000 surveillance cameras, which is one of the largest in the nation, as well as private cameras offered by local residents and business owners.

Thirty-five police cameras and more than 20 private-sector cameras were used to track down the two brothers from the scene of the crime back in 2019. The Osundairos confessed that they had been hired by Smollett after they were detained, and police corroborated their version of events with more surveillance camera footage.   

Footage it has shown the jury so far includes security video of the brothers buying ski masks, red hats, and the clothesline used in the attack, as well as a still of Smollett walking up the stairs to his apartment with the rope draped around his neck, untied. It was again tied around his neck when police arrived at his apartment, where he asked officers to turn off their body cameras. 

The defense argued that the Osundairo brothers attacked Smollett because of a personal grudge, saying the $3,500 check the prosecution alleges was payment for the hoax was actually for personal training for an upcoming music video.

Defense attorney Nenye Uche characterized the brothers as unreliable, pointing to how their stories had changed since the incident.

“They are going to lie to your face,” Uche said.

Abimbola Osundario, a stand-in on Empire, testified Wednesday that he and his brother agreed to Smollett's scheme because he had helped with his acting career. Osundairo admitted the check was for training and nutrition, but also for helping stage the attack.  

The Osundairo brothers filed a lawsuit against two of Smollett’s attorneys in 2019 for defamation, arguing they had made false, harmful allegations in order to distract the public from Smollett.

Judge James Linn expects the trial to take about one week.