A former Chicago detective offered a detailed breakdown Tuesday of the investigation that led authorities to believe Jussie Smollett staged an attack against himself in the first full day of testimony in the actor’s disorderly conduct trial.
Detective Michael Theis was the first witness for the prosecution and his testimony drew heavily on what investigators learned from Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, the two brothers Smollett allegedly hired to carry out the attack against him in January 2019. While the Osundairos were first seen as suspects, Theis explained how they came to cooperate with the authorities.
As the Chicago Tribune reports, the Osundairos began cooperating not long after Smollett allegedly sent a text to Abimbola on Feb. 14, 2019 that some interpreted as an attempt to secure the Osundairos silence: “Brother….I love you,” the previously unreleased text read. “I stand with you. I know 1000% you and your brother did nothing wrong and never would. I am making this statement so everyone else knows. They will not get away with this. Please hit me when they let you go. I am behind you fully.”
While on the stand, Theis noted that it was unusual how Smollett was “making a statement” about the Osundairos innocence in the text message, something he hadn’t previously done publicly, nor has done since. When Theis was then asked by the prosecutor if Smollett had ever been honest about the crime, Theis said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
During his testimony, Theis highlighted security footage that appeared to back up the claim that Smollett had enlisted the Osundairos to attack him. Theis said there was footage of Smollett picking up the brothers in an alley on Jan. 25, as well as additional footage from an alleged Jan. 27 “dry run.” The attack took place two days later on Jan. 29.
Prosecutors also showed the jury footage of the Osundairos picking up supplies — from rope to masks — ahead of the attack, as well as a trip to the bank to deposit a check Smollett had given them. Jurors saw a copy of that $3,500 check as well, which Smollett wrote out to Abimbola and which contained the memo note: “5 week nutrition/workout program.”
The Osundarios are expected to be the key witnesses for the prosecution and they will likely take the stand later this week. Smollett could also testify at some point during the trial.
Smollett is charged with multiple counts of disorderly conduct, with Illinois law classifying false police reports as disorderly conduct. Though the charges, as The Associated Press notes, are class 4 felonies, the least serious in Illinois, Smollett could still face several years in prison if convicted (though probation and community service are just as likely considering Smollett’s lack of criminal history and the fact that no one was seriously hurt).
Smollett has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, and during opening remarks Monday, the actor’s lawyer, Nenye Uche, maintained that Smollett was a victim and that the Osundairos were “highly intelligent criminals” who had changed their story about the attack after being arrested. Uche also argued that there was no physical or forensic evidence linking Smollett to a hoax, and countered the prosecution’s argument that Smollett allegedly staged the attack because he was upset about his situation on the TV show Empire.
“Jussie was not a person who liked attention,” Uche said. “Even his publicist was frustrated at him for that. It’s fantasy.”
Meanwhile, special prosecutor Dan Webb argued in his opening statement that Smollett orchestrated the attack, highlighting a text the actor allegedly sent Abimbola, asking him for help “on the low.” Webb claimed that Smollett was desperate for attention and even “tampered” with the rope the Osundairos put around his neck to “make it look more like a lynching.”
From Rolling Stone US