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Jussie Smollett Gets Combative, Scolds Prosecutor during Cross-Examination

Actor Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Ill., March 14, 2019. (Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters)

The defense team for former Empire star Jussie Smollett rested its case after the actor finished testifying in his own defense on Tuesday.

Most of the morning was spent by special prosecutor Dan Webb finishing his cross-examination of Smollett, and trying to poke holes in his story that he had nothing to do with orchestrating a racist and homophobic attack against himself in January 2019.

Smollett, 39, appeared frustrated by the questioning at times, particularly when Webb asked him several times about his role in planning the alleged attack at about 2 a.m. on January 29, 2019. “There was no fake attack,” said Smollett, who repeatedly denied any involvement in it.

After spending more than five hours on the witness stand Monday, generally appearing composed and polite, Smollett was more combative on Tuesday, criticizing Webb for his lack of understanding of Instagram, and at one point chastising the white special prosecutor for quoting from some of his Instagram messages that included the N-word.

“Can you spell or say the N-word out of respect for every African American in this room? You’ve been saying that word a lot,” Smollett interjected.

“I don’t intend to do that sir…you can read your messages aloud,” Webb responded.

Webb then allowed Smollett to read those messages to the jury.

At the beginning of his questioning Tuesday, Webb noted that on January 27, 2019, two days before the alleged attack occurred, Smollett picked up brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo in his Mercedes and drove them around the area around his apartment, including driving three times past the stairwell where the alleged attack would eventually occur. Prosecutors are arguing that Smollett conspired with the Osundairo brothers to stage the attack against him, and that drive with the brothers was a dry run for the fake attack. The Osundairos testified that it was Smollett’s plan to have them call him racist and homophobic slurs, fight with him, pour bleach on him, hang a noose around his neck, and call out “this is MAGA country,” to make it appear the attack was carried out by Donald Trump’s supporters.

Smollett testified the reason he picked the brothers up the morning of the 27th was because he was supposed to exercise with Abimbola Osundairo at his apartment gym. Webb noted that he and Osundairo didn’t actually work out that morning, and they never even got out of his car.

“We did not work out,” Smollett acknowledged. Instead, he said, they drove around smoking weed while he was texting with a colleague about an upcoming MSNBC interview.

Webb also pointed out that on the evening of January 28, 2019, Smollett was flying back from a quick trip to New York, but that his flight was delayed several hours. During the delay, Smollett spoke with Abimbola Osundairo on the phone at least twice, and sent him at least three direct Instagram messages. The Osundairo brothers testified last week that the alleged attack was initially planned for 10 p.m. on the 28th, just after Smollett returned home to Chicago, but that Smollett pushed it back to 2 a.m. on the 29th because of the delayed flight.

Smollett testified that the reason he was communicating with Abimbola Osundairo was because he was supposed to exercise with him that night when he got back to Chicago, but instead delayed their workout until 9 a.m. the next morning. Webb noted that 9 a.m. workout – seven hours after the alleged attack – also didn’t occur, and there’s no evidence Abimbola Osundairo came to his apartment to exercise, or that Smollett canceled the workout.

“There were more important matters,” Smollett said.

Webb pressed Smollett on his repeated claims to police that one of his attackers was white, while the Osundairo brothers – who’ve admitted they were the ones who jumped Smollett at around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2019 – are black. Webb asked him if reporting that one of the attackers was white would get more attention for a fake hate crime.

“You’d have to ask someone who actually did a fake hate crime,” Smollett replied.

Webb showed Smollett surveillance photos of the two men who police say attacked Smollett that morning. The Osundairo brothers testified that they’re the ones in the photos. But Smollett wouldn’t say for certain that the Osundairos were the people who attacked him.

“I doubt every word that they say,” Smollett said. “They’re liars.”

Smollett’s lead attorney, Nenye Uche, told the jury last week that Smollett was a “target” of the two brothers who planned “this ridiculous attack,” but Uche also has tried to establish the possibility that a third person, possibly a white man, was involved.

The defense’s last witness was the driver of the Uber who drove the Osundairos part of the way to Smollett’s neighborhood the morning of the attack. He said the first person who got in his car that night was talking with someone, though he didn’t see him talking on a phone. The defense has suggested that the Osundairo brothers could have been in communication with an accomplice that morning, though they haven’t suggested who that is.

The Ossundairo brothers both testified that they left their phones at home the morning of the attack at Smollett’s request.

Closing arguments in the trial are expected on Wednesday morning. Smollett is facing six counts of felony disorderly conduct and could serve as many as three years in prison if found guilty.

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Ryan Mills is an enterprise and media reporter at National Review. He previously worked for 14 years as a breaking news reporter, investigative reporter, and editor at newspapers in Florida. Originally from Minnesota, Ryan lives in the Fort Myers area with his wife and two sons.

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