'He wanted me to beat him up': Key witness in Jussie Smollett trial testifies about actor's alleged plot to stage hate crime

  • In US
  • 2021-12-02 00:24:00Z
  • By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO - A detective who interviewed Jussie Smollett about an alleged hate crime attack testified Wednesday that Smollett changed part of his story after he realized two people he knew - the Osundairo brothers - were in custody.

Smollett had initially described one of his attackers as white. But about two weeks later, when he came in for another police interview, he told Detective Robert Graves the attacker was "pale-skinned."

Smollett had "put two and two together" and realized the Osundairo brothers were in custody for the crime, Graves said, but Smollett told police he felt they were innocent.

"He said it can't be them," Graves said quoting Smollett as saying the brothers' complexions were too dark.

Ultimately, however, Smollett said he was willing to sign a complaint against the brothers, but his attorney stopped him, according to Graves.

Graves took the stand on the third day of Smollett's trial on charges of lying to police. Prosecutors alleged he orchestrated a fake hate crime on himself with the help of the Osundairo brothers, then reported to police that he had been a victim. Smollett has strenuously denied the accusation.

The brothers are expected to be crucial prosecution witnesses. Abimbola Osundairo walked into the Leighton Criminal Court Building late Wednesday morning, sparking speculation that he could take the stand in the afternoon.

After a lengthy and at times tense day of testimony Tuesday, the day's first witness was Chicago police Detective Kimberly Murray, who interviewed the former "Empire" actor at Northwestern Memorial Hospital a few hours after the alleged attack.

Murray said Smollett told her he was trying to get back to the lobby of his building when he heard one of his attackers state, "Empire!" and then use homophobic and racial slurs, to which he replied, "What the (expletive) did you say to me?"

One of the attackers then responded, "This is MAGA country, (racial epithet)!"

The assailants put a rope around his neck like a noose and then fled, Smollett has said.

Smollett told Murray that one attacker was wearing a ski mask, but he could see through the "open eye hole" that the attacker appeared white, Murray testified.

Smollett told Murray about a racist letter he'd received at "Empire" set, as well as a homophobic phone call where an anonymous called said, "Hey little (homophobic epithet)" before he'd hung up.

Murray also said she informed Smollett seemed to be upset when she informed him that the attack itself had not been captured on surveillance cameras.

On cross-examination, Murray acknowledged that she knew Smollett had not been the one to call police, and said she understood Smollett wanted to keep the whole thing as private as possible.

Smollett had been reluctant to turn over his phone and medical records to police, Murray testified. On questioning from the defense, she acknowledged that actors like Smollett value their privacy and sometimes have information on their phone they could not release.

Defense attorney Heather Widell asked on cross-examination about Smollett's identification of one of his attackers as white, including whether his actual description was that he "appeared to be pale."

"No he never said that to me," Murray answered.

When Widell asked how Smollett said he could tell the race of the assailant if he was wearing a ski mask, Murray said he said he could "see the bridge of the nose and the skin around the eye."

Prosecutors objected strenuously to some of Widell's questions about medical records, which seemed to hint at leaks in the Chicago Police Department and Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Judge James Linn sustained the objections.

The two brothers whom prosecutors allege helped Smollett stage the attack are in fact Black. Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo are expected to be prosecutors' centerpiece witnesses; they have not yet taken the stand at trial.

Smollett is accused of staging the January 2019 attack to gain favor and improve his status with his television show, which has since been canceled.

The actor allegedly told police he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault. Two men he didn't recognize yelled slurs, poured bleach on him, and put a rope around his neck like a noose, he said.

Jurors spent most of Tuesday hearing from a Chicago police detective who acted as one of the lead investigators in Smollett's case. Michael Theis detailed the way Smollett turned from victim to suspect as Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo told police Smollett persuaded them to help carry out the phony assault.

Theis also walked jurors through extensive surveillance footage from around the time of the January 2019 attack, which he said corroborated the brothers' story.

On cross-examination, Smollett's attorney focused repeatedly on what the defense has claimed was tunnel vision by police, who believed the Osundairos' story over Smollett's and - according to the defense - missed or ignored key evidence and witnesses. Among them: a woman who happened to be walking her dogs nearby a couple of hours before the attack and reportedly told police she saw a suspicious-looking white guy carrying a rope; and a security guard who claimed he saw a white man in a ski mask run past him around the time of the assault.

The defense also sought to portray the Osundairos as homophobic criminals and drug dealers, noting that police found guns and cocaine in their apartment and apparently anti-gay sentiments on their social media.



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