Jussie Smollett’s trial is starting — here’s what you need to know

Scott Olson
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jury selection in the trial involving Jussie Smollett began on Monday, putting the spotlight back on a case in which the former "Empire" actor faces accusations that he falsely reported a racist attack in 2019.

It's been nearly three years since Smollett, 39, first reported the alleged attack, and he now faces six felony disorderly conduct charges for allegedly lying to police.

Here's what you need to know about the case.

What does Jussie Smollett claim happened?

The actor told police that he was coming home from a subway in Chicago around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2019, when he was attacked by two men yelling racist and homophobic slurs who put a noose around his neck and threw bleach on him.

Smollett's claims drew a wave of fury across the country and condemnation for the alleged racist attack. He also claimed the men said "this is MAGA country" in reference to supporters of former president Donald Trump.

What did police say their investigation found?

An investigation by police found that Smollett's alleged attackers were two brothers that Smollett allegedly paid $3,500 to stage the incident. Then-Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a press conference in February 2019 that Smollett was unhappy with his pay on “Empire” and wanted to promote his career by using the “pain and anger of racism.”

Brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo told police they were given money by Smollett to buy the rope for the noose. Phone records showed Smollett in communication with the brothers around an hour before the alleged attack as well as after the attack, according to text messages and surveillance video, police said.

The Osundairo brothers have expressed remorse for their alleged role in the alleged scheme and are expected to testify for the prosecution, NBC News correspondent Meagan Fitzgerald reported on TODAY Monday. The brothers have not been charged with a crime.

What is Jussie Smollett charged with now?

After initial charges against Smollett were dropped in March 2019, a Cook County judge appointed a special prosecutor in June 2019 to investigate how Smollett's initial case was handled.

The special prosecutor, Dan K. Webb, then made the decision to further prosecute Smollett after finding "abuse of discretion and operational failures" by the Cook County state's attorney.

Webb's decision to reopen the case resulted in a grand jury indicting Smollett in February 2020 on felony charges of making false reports. Smollett has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has stood by his story.

"They won't let this go," Smollett said in a video interview with Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill on Instagram last year. “There is an example being made, and the sad part is that there’s an example being made of someone that did not do what they’re being accused of.”

What about his previous charges?

Smollett initially faced 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct after being indicted in March 2019 for allegedly making false reports to the police about the alleged incident. He pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors dropped all the charges the same month. Prosecutor Kim Foxx drew criticism for her handling of the case by then-Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel for allegedly giving Smollett special treatment because he is a celebrity.

Smollett defended himself in a statement to reporters outside the courtroom after the charges were dropped.

“I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one,’’ Smollett said. “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I’d been accused of."

After Smollett was initially charged with filing a false police report, the producers of "Empire" dropped his character from the final two episodes of the latest season of the show.

What are prominent people saying about it?

Trump blasted Smollett on Twitter at the time, saying his allegedly false claim about the attack insulted his followers.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who was a presidential candidate at the time, initially showed support for Smollett but then tweeted in February 2019 that she was "sad, frustrated and disappointed" about police saying Smollett allegedly staged the attack.

President Joe Biden also initially tweeted his support for Smollett after the first reports about the alleged attack.

Smollett faced blowback after being arrested in February 2019 for allegedly filing a false report.

"My head is exploding this morning," Bravo's Andy Cohen tweeted. "I have to get off Twitter. This story is pathetic. All of it."

"What upsets me about this Jussie situation is that people were genuinely worried about you man," actor O'Shea Jackson Jr. tweeted. "And the things that you said happened could have led to some serious outcomes. People were prepared to fight for you bruh. Things coulda got ugly...... and you made it up."

Smollett's sister, "Lovecraft Country" star Jurnee Smollett, 35, spoke out about the case in August 2020.

"One of the most painful things my family’s ever experienced — to love someone as much as we love my brother, and to watch someone who you love that much go through something like this, that is so public, has been devastating,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.

Could Jussie Smollett go to jail?

Legal experts told Fitzgerald that Smollett faces a maximum of three years in prison if convicted, but it's more likely that he would be sentenced to probation because he has a clean record.

The trial is expected to last two weeks

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting