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A man who alleges that actor Jussie Smollett paid him and his brother to help him stage a hate crime attack in 2019 took the stand Wednesday, saying that the former "Empire" star asked the pair to “fake beat him up."
Abimbola told the court that Smollet even instructed him to use both an anti-gay slur and to utter the word “MAGA” during the act.
Smollett reported in 2019 that two masked assailants had assaulted him in Chicago, hurling racial and homophobic slurs before pouring an unknown liquid over him and wrapping a noose around his neck.
A police investigation into the incident raised questions about whether the attack actually took place as described, with authorities concluding it didn't. Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo were arrested in the case and told police Smollett had hired them to stage the assault.
“I agreed to do it because most importantly, I felt indebted to him, to Jussie,” Abimbola testified, according to the New York Post. “He also got me a stand-in role on ‘Empire’ and I also believed that he could help further my acting career.”
While on the stand, Abimbola said he was everything from a colleague on the set of “Empire” to a friend to a part-time drug dealer to a bodybuilding coach to Smollett. He spent more than four hours on the witness stand in all, according to the Sun-Times. During that time, he testified that Smollett gave him and his brother a check for $3,500, which he believed was payment for both the staged attack as well as a food and exercise plan he gave Smollett.
Smollett, who is both Black and openly gay, still maintains that he was the victim of both a racist and homophobic assault. But just weeks after he filed the police report in 2019, law enforcement began alleging that Smollett had paid the Osundairo brothers to attack him in an effort to help his career. The two brothers have claimed that Smollett wanted to suffer a fake attack because he was unhappy about how his TV studio handled hate mail addressed to him, the Associated Press reports.
Smollett has been indicted on six counts of disorderly conduct for “making four separate false reports to Chicago Police Department officers related to his false claims that he was the victim of a hate crime, knowing that he was not the victim of a crime,” according to a statement from the special prosecutor’s office obtained by Oxygen.com last year.
Chicago Police Det. Robert Graves also testified on Wednesday, claiming that Smollett lied to police officers about the racial makeup of one of his attackers. He said that Smollett initially told him that one of his attackers was white but changed his story when the two brothers were arrested.
“Well, he acted like he was white by what he said,” Smollett said at that point, according to the detective’s testimony.
This week also gave further insight into how the investigation played out. Muhammad Baig, the first officer on the scene after the incident was reported, testified that he asked Smollett if he wanted to take the noose off his neck. "
He responded by saying that he’d like to take it off but he wanted us to see it first," Baig testified, according to the Associated Press.
During opening statements on Monday, former police detective Michael Theis testified that he initially viewed the actor as a genuine victim of a horrific homophobic and racist attack, the Associated Press reported. Later, he believed the account of the Osundairo brothers, and pointed to hate mail the actor received as a motive. Smollett had apparently received a letter from someone who drew a stick figure hanging from a tree and the word “MAGA,” which was brought to the attention of the TV studio.
Upon cross-examination on Tuesday, defense attorney Nenye Uche suggested that Osundairo brothers were homophobic while asking about a slur one of the brothers apparently used in a text message. Theis admitted that one had used that language he wasn't sure if that alone made him homophobic. Uche also alleged during that cross-examination that one of the brothers attacked someone at the TV studio where "Empire" was filmed simply because the victim was gay. During his opening statements on Monday, Uche stated that Smollett “is a real victim” and Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo really did attack Smollett “because of who he is.”
Smollett’s charges were abruptly dropped in 2019 and he reportedly agreed to community service and his record was wiped clean, according to Fox32 in Chicago. He was then recharged after a special prosecutor, appointed by a judge, reviewed the Cook County State's Attorney Office's decision to drop the case, a move that became a political flashpoint in the city.
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