As Trial Opens, Lawyer Says 'Jussie Smollett Is Real Victim'

Defense paints brothers who allegedly attacked Smollett as liars
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 30, 2021 12:01 AM CST
'Jussie Smollett Is a Real Victim,' Says Lawyer as Trial Opens
Family members of actor Jussie Smollett depart the Leighton Criminal Courthouse Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, during jury selection in Smollett's trial in Chicago.   (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

(Newser) – Jussie Smollett “is a real victim” of a “real crime,” his attorney said as the ex-Empire actor's trial started Monday, rejecting prosecutors’ allegation that he staged a homophobic and racist attack in Chicago after the television studio where he worked didn’t take hate mail he had received seriously. Defense attorney Nenye Uche said two brothers attacked Smollett in January 2019 because they didn't like him and that a $3,500 check the actor paid the men was for training so he could prepare for an upcoming music video—not as payment for staging a hate crime, as prosecutors allege. Uche also suggested a third attacker was involved and told jurors there is not a “shred “ of physical and forensic evidence linking Smollett to the crime prosecutors allege, the AP reports. “Jussie Smollett is a real victim," Uche said.

Uche made his opening statement after special prosecutor Dan Webb told jurors that the actor recruited the brothers to help him carry out a fake attack, then reported it to Chicago police, who classified it as a hate crime and spent 3,000 staff hours on the investigation. Smollett told police he was attacked by supporters of then-President Donald Trump—igniting political divisions around the country. “When he reported the fake hate crime that was a real crime,” said Webb, who was named as special prosecutor after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office dropped the original charges filed against Smollett. A new indictment was returned in 2020. Smollett, who arrived at the courthouse in Chicago Monday with his mother and other family members, is charged with felony disorderly conduct.

Webb told jurors Smollett was unhappy about how the studio handled a letter he received that included a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a tree and “MAGA," a reference to Trump's Make America Great Again campaign slogan. Webb said police have not determined who wrote that letter. However, Uche countered that Smollett had turned down extra security when the studio offered it. Whether Smollett, who is Black and gay, will testify remains an open question. But the siblings will take the witness stand. Uche portrayed the brothers as unreliable, saying their story has changed while Smollett’s has not, and that when police searched their home they found heroin and guns. Uche also said prosecutors' claim about paying for a fake attack by check doesn't make sense. “At the end of the day they want you to believe Jussie was stupid enough to pay for a hoax with a check but was smart enough to pay (for supplies) with a $100 bill,” he said. (Read more Jussie Smollett stories.)

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