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'I am making this statement so everyone else knows. They will not get away with this': Text from Jussie Smollett a focus trial's second day

Jason Meisner and Megan Crepeau, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO — As rumors of a hoax were swirling around Jussie Smollett’s claim he was the victim of a hate crime attack in downtown Chicago, the “Empire” actor allegedly sent a text to one of the two acquaintances being questioned by police.

“Brother....I love you,” read Smollett’s text to Abimbola Osundairo on the afternoon of Feb. 14, 2019. “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.”

The text, which had never before been made public, was shown to jurors Tuesday on the second day of Smollett’s trial on charges that he hired Osundairo and his younger brother, Olabinjo, to commit a phony racist and homophobic attack on Smollett in January 2019.

Testifying as the first witness for prosecutors, Chicago police Detective Michael Theis, one of the lead investigators on the Smollett case, noted the unusual nature of Smollett’s insistence that he was “making a statement” about the brothers’ innocence, which he had never done before publicly, either before or since.

“To this day, has Mr. Smollett ever come clean about this hate crime?” deputy special prosecutor Samuel Mendenhall asked Theis.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Theis replied.

 

The timing of the text was crucial, as it could easily be construed as an attempt by Smollett to get the brothers to keep quiet.

Earlier that day, Smollett had gone on “Good Morning America” and doubled down on his story that two men jumped him as he walked back to his apartment at 2 a.m. in below-zero weather, poured bleach on him, put a rope around his neck and yelled racial slurs and a pro-Trump slogan.

In the two weeks since, authorities had zeroed in on the Osundairo brothers as the culprits. Soon after the text from Smollett was sent, however, they decided to cooperate with police, and Smollett quickly went from victim to suspect.

In nearly four hours of direct examination Tuesday, Theis walked jurors step by step through the investigation, which he said was thorough and meticulous, countering the defense’s assertion during opening statements that Smollett was the victim of a nightmarish rush to judgment.

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