CHICAGO (WGN) — Beginning Monday, a jury will be picked and tasked with deciding whether former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett staged a hate crime in downtown Chicago nearly three years ago.
Two brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, stand at the center of the case that prosecutors will lay before jurors when the trial begins this week.
The case gripped the city when it was first thrust into public view. Smollett, a Black and gay actor on the Fox series “Empire,” told Chicago police that he was attacked by two masked men in the middle of a frigid night after he left a Subway restaurant.
Smollett said his attackers used homophobic and racial slurs while putting a noose around his neck, with one of the assailants telling him, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to former President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.
The siblings, who worked with him on the TV show, said he paid them $3,500 to pose as his attackers.
Smollett himself became a suspect and was charged with making a false report. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said she “recused” herself from the case to “address questions of impartiality.” Shortly after Smollett was charged, “Empire” producers said his character would be written out of the show.
However, the charges against Smollett were quickly dropped with little explanation in March 2019. The city later filed a federal lawsuit against Smollett, seeking to recoup the money that was spent investigating Smollett’s initial attack claim.
Eventually, Cook County Judge Michael Toomin appointed Dan Webb — the former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois — as special prosecutor, tasked with determining whether there was wrongdoing by the state’s attorney’s office in dropping the charges and deciding if Smollett should face criminal charges.
A grand jury returned a six-count indictment against Smollett in February 2020.
The brothers will take the witness stand where they are expected to repeat what they have told police officers and prosecutors — that they carried out the attack at Smollett’s behest.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.