Jussie Smollett testified in his own defense during his criminal trial. On Monday (Dec. 6) the Empire actor took the stand and detailed his relationship with the alleged attackers. The 39-year-old faces six counts of disorderly conduct after law enforcement claims he staged a racist and homophobic attack and lied about it for publicity in January 2019. He was indicted in March 2020 after prosecutors had previously dropped similar charges against him related to the incident and a judge refused to drop the case.
According to CBS Chicago, on the witness stand, the actor detailed his working relationship with both Abel and Ola Osundairo, the two brothers allegedly responsible for the attack. Smollett claimed, under oath, that he and Abel met privately, without the other brother, and engaged in illicit behavior including consuming drugs and sexual activity.
“I always have weed on me… well, not now,” Smollett testified, adding, “And he [Abel] had the cocaine.”
He claimed that together, he and Abel visited a bathhouse in Boystown, where gay pornography was displayed on television screens and got a private room. Smollet then detailed how they “did more drugs and made out.” During another alleged visit, he claims to have kissed his alleged attacker again and said he and Abel masturbated together, saying, “There was some touching.”
Abel has testified he never had a sexual relationship with Smollett.
Smollett is adamant in his story that he paid the Osundairo brothers $3,500 for nutrition advice and training, not to stage an attack. Empire creator Lee Daniels allegedly told the actor he needed to lose 30 pounds before coming on set. Smollet and his legal team claimed the total amount was equivalent to the same $100 per day rate he had paid to his previous trainer and provided a $5,000 invoice he had once paid to a previous trainer to prove a pattern of lump-sum payments.
“There was no hoax,” he testified. “Not one iota of information has changed.”
He detailed that while starring on Empire, he earned $27,000 to $28,000 per episode for 10 episodes in the show’s first season, $80,000 per episode in Season 3, $90,000 per episode in Season 4, and $100,000 per episode in Season 5 before he was fired. Important to his defense, Smollett claimed the role also brought hate as he portrayed an openly gay Black man on television and is also gay in real life. He claimed after a threatening letter addressed to him was sent to the studio, executives offered him security.
The prosecution claims Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with the response that the letter received and wanted more attention.
The New York Post reported Smollett also testified he became aware that the Chicago Police Department did not believe his story after receiving a text from CNN anchor Don Lemon tipping him off. According to the outlet, this influenced Smollett’s decision not to turn his phone over to law enforcement.
During an interview with Entertainment Tonight in 2019, Lemon shared he was in communication with Smollett via text message every day following the alleged attack.
“It’s been reported this happened or that happened, but my main concern is for him and for his well-being,” said Lemon at the time. “One, he has to deal with discrimination as a Black man, then, on top of that, he has to be gay and he’s out. And then fame.”
He continued, “So every day I say… ‘I know you think I’m annoying you, but I just want to know how you’re doing. And that you’re OK. And that if you need somebody you can talk to me because there’s not a lot of us out there.'”
If convicted, Smollett faces up to three years in jail.