Jussie Smollett staged a racist and homophobic assault and told police he was the victim after the television studio where he worked didn’t take hate mail he had received seriously, a prosecutor said during opening statements in the ex-“Empire” actor’s trial Monday.
Smollett has maintained he was attacked in downtown Chicago in January 2019 by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, a report that ignited political and ideological divisions around the country. But special prosecutor Dan Webb said the actor recruited two brothers to help him carry out the fake attack, then reported it to Chicago police, who classified it as a hate crime and spent 3,000 staff hours on the investigation.
“When he reported the fake hate crime that was a real crime,” said Webb, who was named as special prosecutor after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office dropped the original charges filed against Smollett. A new indictment was returned in 2020.
Smollett, who arrived at the courthouse in Chicago Monday with his mother and other family members, is charged with felony disorderly conduct. The class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said it is likely that if Smollett is convicted he would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service.
Webb told jurors that the two brothers — who worked on the “Empire” set with Smollett — say the actor paid them $3,500 to pose as his attackers after he was unhappy about how the studio handled the letter he received. That letter included a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a tree and “MAGA,” a reference to Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign slogan, Webb said