Jussie Smollett, the actor accused of orchestrating a hate crime hoax on himself, took the stand Monday and said he "wouldn't be my mother's son" if he were capable of masterminding the incident that captivated the nation in 2019.
The former Empire actor is charged with six counts of disorderly conduct on suspicion of making false reports to police. Smollett, who is black and gay, has repeatedly denied staging the attack. He told authorities two men beat him up and tied a noose around his neck.
His testimony marks the first time he has made extensive public remarks on the case.
JURY SELECTION BEGINS IN CRIMINAL TRIAL OF JUSSIE SMOLLETT, THE ACTOR ACCUSED OF STAGING HATE CRIME ON HIMSELF
Smollett started off his testimony by telling the jury how he grew up in a close-knit family of six children and performed as a child actor.
He said he “came to terms with my sexuality” in his early 20s, when he got involved in charity organizations, including a group that fights AIDS in the black community.
He said he auditioned for a role on Empire as a gay singer because he had never seen a black man portrayed that way.
When prosecutors accused Smollett of staging the hate crime three years ago, he told reporters he was innocent of the charges, proclaiming "I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one ... I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I'd been accused of."
Last week, prosecutors called Abimbola Osundairo, one of two Nigerian brothers who claimed Smollett paid them to stage a phony hate crime, to the stand.
Osundairo testified Wednesday that Smollett gave him and his brother instructions and money in advance of the Jan. 29, 2019, incident. He also testified that Smollett planned a "dry run" of the attack and gave him $100 to buy supplies.
Osundairo, the state's star witness, told jurors that Smollett instructed him to punch the actor, but "not too hard."
Once Smollett was on the ground, Smollett told Osundairo to give him a "bruise" and a "noogie," which involved rubbing his knuckles hard on Smollett's head.
Osundairo told jurors he and his brother felt they needed to go along with the plan because Smollett had helped them get stand-in roles on the then-popular Fox series. He also admitted that when he and his brother spotted Smollett on the street, he shouted a homophobic slur, while his brother yelled, "This is MAGA country."
After punching Smollett in the face and throwing him on the ground, the brothers put a noose around his neck and threw bleach on him before running away, Osundairo testified.
The next morning, as news of the alleged hate crime broke, Osundairo told jurors he texted Smollett a condolence note, something Smollett had instructed him to do.
"Bruh, say it ain't true. I'm praying for your speedy recovery," the text read.
The Chicago beatdown garnered international headlines and put intense pressure on the Chicago Police Department to find the culprits.
But Smollett's story soon began to unravel.
The two siblings eventually came forward and said Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the attack, though Smollett has denied it.
Instead, Smollett's defense team claims he is the "real victim" and that the brothers' accounts should not be believed.
During opening arguments, his attorneys said the Osundairos pinned the crime on Smollett so they wouldn't get into trouble with authorities.
Cook County prosecutors initially charged Smollett with disorderly conduct, but then they abruptly dropped the case a month later with little to no explanation.
After intense public outcry, a judge appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the Smollett matter.
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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.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.