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Jussie Smollett trial begins with prosecutor alleging a bogus hate crime, defense claiming case was a 'rush to judgment'

Megan Crepeau and Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO — After years of controversy and roller-coaster twists and turns, the trial of Jussie Smollett began Monday with prosecutors alleging the actor faked a hate crime that grabbed the nation’s attention and the defense calling that a “fantasy.”

In his opening statement, special prosecutor Dan Webb said that Smollett’s fakery was not just a criminal act — it was a despicable act that denigrated victims of actual hate crimes.

In his zeal for attention, Webb said, Smollett even “tampered” with the rope his accomplices had put around his neck “to make it look more like a lynching.”

“By the time the police get there, Mr. Smollett has moved the knot closer to his throat,” Webb said, pointing to a surveillance photo that showed the actor walking up the steps to his apartment on the night of the incident with the rope apparently dangling from his neck. “He wanted it to look like something more serious.”

But Smollett’s attorneys said it was the actor, who is Black and openly gay, who was in fact the real victim, not only of a homophobic attack but also of a “tremendous rush to judgment” by police and prosecutors that ruined his career and reputation.

And the prosecutors’ star witnesses, brothers who told police they helped Smollett fake the attack, are opportunistic liars who hated Smollett “because of who he is as a person” and were using him to advance their own careers, defense attorney Nenye Uche said in his opening statement.

 

“They are not some foreign exchange students from Nigeria,” Uche said. “They are sophisticated, highly intelligent criminals. ... Jussie thought he had a friend, but that friendship ran one way, it was a one-way street.”

Throughout opening statements, which concluded shortly before 7 p.m., Smollett sat calmly at the defense table dressed in a dark gray suit, occasionally leaning over to whisper something to his attorney. He left the the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Monday evening without commenting, flanked by several family members and supporters.

While he was in court, Smollett learned that a film he recently directed, “B-Boy Blues,” had won “fan favorite narrative feature” in the American Black Film Festival Awards, according to a spokesperson for the defense.

Prosecutors are scheduled to begin presenting witnesses in their case on Tuesday morning.

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