CHICAGO (Associated Press) – Two brothers arrested for an alleged attack on Jussie Smollett recounted to Chicago police how a former “Empire” actor masterminded the hoax, telling them via text message of his “low-key” interview, paying for supplies and keeping the lead investigator testified Tuesday The “dry race” in downtown Chicago.
Take the position as the prosecutors began Case against Smollett, former Chicago Police Detective Michael Theiss said he initially viewed the actor as the victim of a racist and homophobic attack and that police were “never quick” to pass judgments as Smollett’s defense attorney alleged during opening statements Monday.
Theis said nearly two dozen investigators logged about 3,000 hours into what they believed to be a “horrific hate crime.” In January 2019. He said they were excited when they were able to track the movements of two suspected attackers using surveillance video, mobile phone records and flight sharing.
“The crime was a hate crime, a horrific hate crime,” said Theiss, noting that Smollett—who is black and gay—reported that his attackers put a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him. He said the case became national and international news and that “everyone from the mayor onwards wanted to know what happened,” referring to then-mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Smollett has been charged with felony disorderly conduct for what prosecutors say is a false police report about the alleged attack. A fourth-degree felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts said that if Smollett was convicted, he would likely be placed on probation and possibly required to perform community service.
After police arrested Abimbola and Olabingo Osondaero – brothers who also worked on the set of “Empire” – as they were returning to Chicago from Nigeria, the men said Smollett wanted to launch the attack because he was unhappy about the way the TV studio handled hate mail for the actor Theis said. He said investigators reviewed the brothers’ account – including that the actor picked them up days before the attack and drove them around the downtown area where he lived and talked about what would happen – and confirmed their version of events using GPS, mobile phone records and video evidence. He added that the police had not found any cases in which they concluded that the men were lying.
Jurors were shown surveillance video of the two brothers buying supplies, including a red hat they told police that Smollett wanted them to dress to look like President Donald Trump’s supporters at the time, and a piece of clothing rope that was later shaped into the gallows. Jurors also viewed a still image from a video that Theis said showed Smollett returning home on the night of the alleged attack, with a clothesline wrapped around his shoulders. Thes said the clothesline was wrapped around his neck when the officers arrived, leading investigators to believe Smollett might have retied it.
“At the end of the investigation, we determined that the alleged hate crime was in fact a staged event,” Theiss said, and the Osundairo brothers were released.
Defense attorney Nene Uchi said during opening remarks late Monday that Smollett was a “real victim” and that the brothers attacked him because they didn’t like him “because of his identity.”
On Tuesday, Ochs suggested that the two brothers were homophobic, and Theiss questioned about an anti-gay word used by one of the brothers. Theis said there was a letter containing slander but he doesn’t know if it makes the man homophobic. Uchi also asked Theis if he was aware that one of the brothers had attacked someone in the TV studio for being gay.
“Someone said it happened but I don’t know it happened,” Theis said.
O’Shea also sought to discredit the police investigation, suggesting that investigators ignored potential leads. He said the $3,500 check the actor paid the brothers was for personal training so he could prepare for an upcoming music video, not to do the trick, prosecutors allege. Theis said Tuesday that the note on the check said it was for “nutrition” and “training.”
The brothers will take the witness stand during the trial, but it is not known if Smollett will testify.
The Ochi portrayed the siblings as unreliable, and said when the police searched their home they found heroin and weapons.
“They will lie to your face,” O’Shea told the jury on Monday.
Special Prosecutor Dan Webb told jurors that Smollett told police he had been attacked by Trump supporters, fueling political divisions nationally.
“When I reported the phony hate crime, it was a real crime,” Webb said.
Webb said Smollett thought the television studio did not take the hate messages it received seriously. Police did not identify who wrote the letter, which included a drawing of a stick hanging from a tree and a “Maga,” a reference to Trump’s campaign slogan Make America Great Again. Webb said Smollett asked the brothers to shout racist, anti-gay insults and “MAGA” during the orchestrated attack.
Auchi also mentioned the involvement of a third attacker. An area resident said she saw a white man with “reddish-brown hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night, according to police reports. She told an investigator that when the man pulled away from her, she “could see what appeared to be a rope hanging from under his jacket.”
Her comments could support Smollett’s claim that his attackers wrapped a noose around his neck. Moreover, if she testified that the man was white, it would corroborate Smollett’s remarks – widely ridiculed because the two brothers were black – that he saw pale or white skin around the eye of one of his masked attackers.
O’Shea referred to the woman during his interrogation against Theis on Tuesday, and Theis admitted that he saw that statement but did not send an investigator to re-interview her.
“We didn’t get a chance,” he said, explaining that the woman had seen the man a few hours before the accident and that “the rope was a different color.”
Outside the courtroom, Smollett’s brother said it was “extremely painful” to watch the family accuse Smollett of something he “didn’t do.”
“We are confident in his legal team, and we look forward to people hearing the actual facts of this case,” said Jojo Smollett.
Twelve jurors plus two alternates were sworn in on Monday to hear the case, which Judge James Lane expects to last about one week.
check the Complete AP coverage In the case of Josie Smollett.