Jussie Smollett, Dan Webb
In this courtroom sketch, special prosecutor Dan Webb, left, cross examines actor Jussie Smollett Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Cheryl Cook) Cheryl Cook/AP

News that actor Jussie Smollett had been the victim of a vicious racist and homophobic attack in downtown Chicago on Jan. 29, 2019, quickly made national headlines.

Celebrities and politicians rallied behind the openly gay actor, with Vice President Kamala Harris, who at the time was a presidential candidate, calling it a "modern-day lynching."

Smollett, who starred in Fox's Empire, told police he had been targeted by two white men in ski masks who wrapped a rope around his neck and poured an "unknown substance" on him. The assailants allegedly shouted, "This is MAGA country," an apparent reference to former President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan, before taking off.


The incident put intense pressure on the Chicago Police Department to find the culprits. But a different narrative soon started to emerge.

In this one, Smollett wasn't the victim. He is charged with being the mastermind who staged the elaborate hoax to bolster his career.

Authorities said Smollett recruited and paid Nigerian brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo $3,500 to carry out a phony attack.

Cook County prosecutors initially charged Smollett with disorderly conduct, but they abruptly dropped the case a month later with little explanation.

After intense public outcry, a judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the matter.

Attorney Dan Webb and his team convened a special grand jury that brought up Smollett on six felony disorderly conduct charges for making what prosecutors say was a false police report, with one count for each time he gave a report to three different officers.

The class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said that if Smollett is found guilty, he will likely get probation and be ordered to perform community service.

During closing arguments on Wednesday, Smollett's defense attorney Nenye Uche called the Osundairo brothers "sophisticated liars" and said the prosecution's case "is built like a house of cards."

When it was his turn, Webb said Smollett lacked credibility and called the evidence against him "overwhelming."

"Besides being against the law, it is just plain wrong to outright denigrate something as serious as a real hate crime and then make sure it involved words and symbols that have such historical significance in our country," he said.

Smollett has denied all of the charges against him.

Here are five takeaways from the trial:

Hate mail and noose 

Smollett was still wearing a ropelike noose around his neck when police arrived at his house about an hour after the alleged attack. He told authorities, "I just wanted you to see it."

According to his Dec. 6 testimony, Smollett had removed the makeshift noose after going back to his apartment but decided to put it back on following the advice of his creative director, Frank Gaston.

“Why would I keep it on?” Smollett said. “Frank told me to put the stuff back on as to not mess with the evidence.”

Smollett also testified he received hate mail on the set of Empire.

The MAGA slogan had been scrawled on a letter that included a drawing of a stick figure hanging by a noose. 

Trump and Smollett.jpg
President Trump spoke out on Feb. 21, 2019 about charges filed against actor Jussie Smollett for felony disorderly conduct for filing a false police report in Chicago. Donald Trump - (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) and Jussie Smollett - (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

The Osundairo brothers testified that Smollett came up with the idea of staging a hate crime because he was upset with the studio for not paying enough attention to the anti-gay and racist mail.

Smollett testified his only complaint was that the studio was trying to saddle him with extra security, which he didn't want.

"They were just doing too much," he said.

He said, he said

Smollett testified that the Osundairo brothers' claims that he paid them $3,500 to carry out a fake attack are "100% false."

He said the check he wrote to Abimbola Osundairo was for meal and workout plans because he was trying to beef up for a music video.

Smollett also denied he gave the brothers $100 to carry out a "dry run" 48 hours before the alleged attack took place.


Under cross-examination, Webb pressed Smollett on claims he picked up Abimbola Osundairo in his car to go work out and that Olabingo Osundairo came along.

Smollett rejected the brothers' testimony that they circled the area where the alleged attack occurred three times.

Smollett told jurors it wasn't unusual for him to drive around in circles and that he eventually scrapped the idea of working out because he didn't feel comfortable around Olabingo Osundairo.

Former Chicago Police Department Detective Michael Theis testified that there was intense pressure to find out what happened during the early morning hours on Jan. 29. He said police evaluated camera footage and other evidence that led them to conclude that Smollett had interacted with the brothers prior to the hoax.

Sex and drugs 

Jussie Smollett Trial
Abimbola Osundairo, walks through the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse courtroom after a lunch break in the trial of actor Jussie Smollett Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Chicago. Osundairo is expected to testify in the trial of Smollett who is accused of lying to police when he reported he was the victim of a racist, anti-gay attack in downtown Chicago nearly three years ago, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Smollett testified he had a sexual relationship with one of the two brothers whom prosecutors allege he paid to stage the crime despite denials from Abimbola Osundairo that the two were ever romantically involved.

Smollett said he met Abimbola Osundairo at a Chicago nightclub in 2017. He said the two did drugs together and on a couple of occasions went to a Boystown bathhouse, where Smollett said they "made out."

He testified that over time, the men did more drugs together, including cocaine and marijuana, and participated in sexual acts.

His comments were a direct contradiction to what Abimbola Osundairo told jurors under oath last week.


Smollett said Abimbola Osundairo, who also worked on Empire, introduced him to his brother but that they didn't speak and "he kind of freaked me out."

The actor testified he never trusted Olabingo Osundairo and that he and Abimbola Osundairo had to "sneak off" when they were around his brother.

Smollett's testimony was seen by some as an attempt to suggest the brothers carried out the attack for reasons other than the alleged attempt by the television star to fake it and get the attention of bigwigs on his television show.

Mistrials and lost money

In one of the trial's more bizarre moments, the defense asked for a mistrial, which was denied, after attorney Tamara Walker claimed Judge James Linn "lunged" at her.

The defense also accused Linn of showing bias after he cut off questioning about the homophobic language used by one of the brothers.

Both the lunge and the alleged bias could be used as grounds for appeal if Smollett is convicted. It could also be used to bolster sympathy for Smollett post-trial, showing how the legal system was stacked against him.

The hit to his reputation is likely far greater.

The actor was making $100,000 per episode on Empire, when the alleged attack occurred. He was written out of the final episodes.

"I've lost my livelihood," Smollett told jurors.

He also testified that he was worried his career would suffer if he reported the alleged assault to authorities.

"I want to play a boxer, I want to play a superhero, I want to blow stuff up," he said. "The moment I got beat I became a f***** who got his ass whooped."

Don Lemon

Don Lemon

Smollett testified that CNN anchor Don Lemon sent him a text message warning him that Chicago police investigators didn't believe he was the victim of a hate crime.

Lemon did a segment on the Smollett trial during his show Monday but did not comment on the new revelations.

During a 2019 interview on Red Table Talk, Lemon said he contacted Smollett through mutual friends operating under the assumption that Smollett's account of the incident was true.


"So every day I say ... 'I know you think I'm annoying you, but I just want to know how you're doing and that you're OK and that if you need somebody, you can talk to me — because there's not a lot of us out there,'" Lemon said, according to Entertainment Tonight. "Sometimes he responds, sometimes he doesn't."

Lemon said he was worried about Smollett's well-being and that he felt for Smollett because they were both black, gay, and in the public eye.