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Justice for Juicy

Dave Chappelle has to be on the edge of his seat!

Actor Jussie Smollett’s Criminal Trial to Begin After Years of Delay

Former ‘Empire’ star faces charges of filing false reports to police and costing Chicago hundreds of thousands of dollars in probe of hoax attack

By Ben Kesling and Jacob Gershman, WSJ

Nov. 28, 2021 9:00 am ET

CHICAGO—Actor Jussie Smollett’s criminal trial on charges from his allegedly staging a hate crime against himself is set to begin Monday after three years of delays and an investigation into the district attorney’s handling of the case.

Mr. Smollett, in late January 2019, claimed two men assaulted him while yelling racist, antigay and pro- Donald Trump slogans. He also alleged they hit him and tied a noose around his neck. Investigators soon alleged that he had fabricated the event.

He is being tried for six counts of disorderly conduct for making false reports to police.

The trial has been delayed due to events including having the charges dropped and refiled and an investigation into how Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx handled the investigation. The Covid-19 pandemic added to the delays. A court official said the trial will begin with jury selection and could be completed within days.

Mr. Smollett’s legal team has said the actor has been unfairly presupposed to be guilty. Mr. Smollett has maintained the truth of his account of the assault. Mr. Smollett’s attorney in 2019 said Mr. Smollett had paid the alleged attackers for personal training, not to perpetrate an assault on him.

The actor’s career was hobbled by the charges, and his character was removed from the Fox television drama “Empire,” which was a hit show at the time.

Police charged Mr. Smollett in February 2019 with felony disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. Investigators determined that the alleged attackers were brothers who knew Mr. Smollett, one of them having appeared on “Empire.”

The city of Chicago, citing extensive costs associated with investigating the allegedly fake crime, has also brought a civil suit against Mr. Smollett to recover costs, damages and attorneys’ fees. The civil case was moved from local court into federal district court in late 2019 because Mr. Smollett is a resident of California and not Illinois. The civil litigation has been stayed pending the criminal trial, according to a Chicago official.

According to the criminal complaint, Mr. Smollett, while filming “Empire” in Chicago, was upset over his pay and recruited Abimbola Osundairo, who had worked and socialized with Mr. Smollett, to stage an attack.

Mr. Smollett planned the attack in Mr. Osundairo’s apartment with him and his brother, Olabinjo, who had been recruited to join in the scheme, according to prosecutors. Days later, Mr. Smollett took the brothers to where the staged attack would take place and pointed out to the brothers the location of a surveillance camera, which he thought would capture the attack, prosecutors said in court filings. He also gave one of the brothers a $100 bill to buy supplies for the assault, they said. The day before the attack, the two brothers split a $3,500 check given them by the defendant and deposited into their bank accounts, prosecutors allege.

Just after 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, the brothers staged the attack on Mr. Smollett before flagging down a taxi and being dropped off at home, according to the prosecution. Mr. Smollett then provided the false report to police, according to the prosecution.

Over the course of two weeks, the city detailed over two dozen officers and detectives to investigate the high-profile event, incurring more than $130,000 in overtime fees.

In early February the police detained the Osundairo brothers and questioned them, determining that they had coordinated and staged the attack. Mr. Smollett has denied any role in planning the attack.

“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett helped stage his own attack, Chicago police said. In a press conference in February 2019, First Assistant Attorney Risa Lanier detailed how investigators came to that conclusion. Photo: Getty Images

Mr. Smollett appears to have a hard case ahead of him, said Andrew Weisberg, a criminal defense attorney and former Cook County prosecutor, who isn’t involved in the case.

“He’s got to double-, triple-, quadruple-down on this story that sounded ridiculous from the beginning,” he said.

Chicago criminal defense attorney Darryl Goldberg, who also isn’t involved in the case, said he thinks the defense will try to offer “alternative explanations of the purported payments” to the Osundairo brothers.

Still, he said, “The jury could find what purportedly happened doesn’t make a lot of sense if it wasn’t a hoax.”

Mr. Goldberg said given the low level of the felony charged, it is unlikely that Mr. Smollett would serve any time behind bars if convicted but probably would be sentenced to probation, unless the court finds significant aggravating factors justifying a tougher punishment.

Mr. Smollett initially was indicted in early 2019 by a Cook County grand jury on 16 felony charges. They were subsequently dropped in exchange for forfeiting of his bond and two days of community service.

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