Testifying in his own defense, former Empire actor Jussie Smollett, 39, took the stand today at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago. He’s accused of lying to police and is charged with six felony counts of disorderly conduct. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts and denies hiring brothers, Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo, to fake attack him on the early morning of January 29, 2019. If he’s found guilty, he faces up to three years in prison.
Both brothers testified for the prosecution last week that Smollett paid them $3,500 with very specific instructions about how he wanted to stage the hate crime. The prosecution also introduced evidence that it says shows ongoing communications about the attack, as well as a video of the dry run the day before it allegedly happened. On the stand today, Smollett denied that he hired anyone to attack him, and spent much of his time talking about growing up in a close-knit family with six children and performing as a child actor. He also talked about coming out and getting involved in charitable organizations to fight AIDS in the Black community. His role on Empire was a major career step, he told the court, portraying a Black gay man and making $100,000 per episode by season five of the hit show.
Smollett also admitted knowing both Osundairo brothers, having met Abimbola at a nightclub in 2017, and learning he also worked on the show. He said that a sexual relationship developed between them while visiting a gay bathhouse together, Steamworks in Chicago’s Boystown, and that they regularly used drugs while participating in sex acts.
“We were in a club,” Smollett said, “you go to the bathroom, go to a stall, do a bump, do a bump and then just kind of keep going in and then we went to the bathhouse … We did more drugs and made out.” The second time they visited Steamworks, he said they masturbated together. Smollett said he was embarrassed by his behavior, the New York Post reported, because his mother was listening to the testimony.
Smollett also admitted under oath that “Bon,” as he called him, would help him buy drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, and ecstasy.
“Ola,” on the other hand, “kind of creeped me out,” Smollett told the court. “Every time we were around him he didn’t speak to me … He wasn’t feeling me, it’s fine.” Osundairo testified last week that he did not have a sexual relationship with the actor, though he did visit Steamworks and procure drugs for him, he said.
While prosecutors say that Smollett identified two white men as being the perpetrators of the attack, in the opening statements, Smollett’s attorney, Nenye Uche, said they would prove that the brothers attacked Smollett, not for money but because they wanted to be his security, something that Smollett wouldn’t agree to. The defense also alleges the brothers asked Smollett for $1 million each to not testify in the trial. The prosecution presented evidence last week in the form of video, text messages, and ride shares, alleging that the brothers were hired by the actor because he was unhappy with how a hate-mail letter was handled on the set of Empire.
Brett Mahoney, a producer on Empire, confirmed that hate mail was sent to Smollett on set. “We were obviously all very upset about the letter,” he said, acknowledging that it was turned over to the police and more security was added on set. Smollett supposedly turned down having security off the set, saying it would be a nuisance in his personal life.