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In this May 20, 2016, file photo, actor and singer Jussie Smollett attends the "Empire" FYC Event in Los Angeles. Image Credit: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Former ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett, facing six felony disorderly conduct charges for allegedly filing a false police report about being the victim of a hate crime, took the stand in a Chicago courtroom Monday to testify in his own defence. He reiterated his stance that there “was no hoax.”

In January 2019, Smollett told police he had been attacked late at night by two people in the city’s Streeterville neighbourhood. Smollett, who is Black and gay, said they poured an unknown chemical substance on him, hurled slurs and yelled, “This is MAGA country,” referring to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.

After the news spread, Smollett received widespread support from numerous advocacy organisations and fellow celebrities. But within days, doubts over whether Smollett was telling the truth began to spread on social media. The actor told Robin Roberts on ‘Good Morning America’ that the lack of belief angered him.

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In this courtroom sketch, actor Jussie Smollett is questioned by his defence attorney Nenye Uche, Monday, December 6, 2021, at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on day five of his trial in Chicago. Image Credit: AP

In mid-February, police questioned brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who were identified as Smollett’s alleged assailants, and announced soon afterward that the interviews had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation.”

Smollett was named a suspect and arrested later that same month, charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report about the attack.

After several stops and starts (including an indictment, dropped charges and then another indictment), Smollett’s trial began last week at Chicago’s Leighton Criminal Courthouse. Special prosecutor Dan K. Webb made the argument that Smollett “devised this fake crime” because he was unhappy with how the studio had handled a threatening letter he received at work, according to the Associated Press.

Smollett pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. While testifying, he detailed growing up in a close-knit family, members of which accompanied him to the courthouse Monday. The AP reported Smollett saying he “came to terms with my sexuality” early in his 20s, when he volunteered at an organisation that worked to fight AIDS in Black communities. On ‘Empire’, he played musician Jamal Lyon, a gay character; Smollett said he went out for the role because he hadn’t previously encountered such a portrayal of a Black man on television.

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Actor Jussie Smollett departs Tuesday, December 7, 2021, with his mother Janet, the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after day six of his trial in Chicago. Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday in Chicago. Image Credit: AP

The actor said that by the fifth season of ‘Empire’, which was on a midseason break at the time of the incident in Chicago, he received $100,000 per episode. Prosecutors previously argued that Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with his salary on the show. According to the AP, he testified that he hated the attention he received after news of the incident broke. He said a friend had been the one to call the police when he returned home that night, and that he wouldn’t have called the authorities himself.

“I am a Black man in America. I do not trust the police,” he said. “I am also a well-known figure at that time, and I am an openly gay man.”

Both Osundairos had worked on ‘Empire’.

According to the AP, Smollett testified that he learnt of Abimbola Osundairo’s job on the show after meeting him at a club in 2017. The actor said they did drugs together and “made out” at a bathhouse, which eventually led to a sexual relationship. (Osundairo denied that characterisation of his relationship with Smollett last week, when the defence argued Osundairo was using the “sexual tension” to advance his own career.)

Smollett also testified that he distrusted Olabinjo Osundairo, who “kind of freaked me out.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Abimbola Osundairo testified last week that he was a friend, physical trainer and occasional drug supplier to Smollett, and that they were close enough for Osundairo to consider the actor his brother. In January 2019, Osundairo said, Smollett asked the brothers to “fake beat him up” and yell slurs at him.

“I agreed to do it, because more importantly, I felt indebted to Jussie,” Osundairo said, according to the Sun-Times. He added, “I also believed he could help further my acting career.”

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Abimbola Osundairo. Image Credit: AP

Osundairo referred to a text message he received from Smollett asking to speak “on the low,” which Osundairo said is when they planned the attack. According to the AP, Smollett testified that the conversation had instead been about an herbal steroid Osundairo offered to bring the actor back from Nigeria, one that was supposedly illegal in the United States.

Prosecutors said earlier in the trial that Smollett told the Osundairos what to say and gave them a $100 bill so they could buy ski masks, red baseball caps similar to the MAGA kind and “a rope to make it look like a hate crime.” A lead investigator added that Smollett had taken them on a “dry run” the day before the incident.

Smollett gave the Osundairos a check for $3,500, which Abimbola Osundairo considered to be payment for both the attack and a food-and-exercise plan he had given the actor, per the Sun-Times. The AP reported that at another point in the trial, defence attorney Nenye Uche said the check covered training that Osundairo had provided Smollett, and that they attacked him because of negative feelings toward him.

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In this courtroom sketch, special prosecutor Dan Webb, left, cross examines actor Jussie Smollett on Tuesday, December 7, 2021, in Chicago. Image Credit: AP

Smollett repeated during his testimony that the check had just been for the wellness advice.

CBS Chicago reported that the defence also argued that the Osundairos were motivated by homophobia. Prosecutors pushed back against this characterisation by showing the jury photos of Olabinjo Osundairo participating in a Pride celebration. Olabinjo Osundairo, who also testified, said Smollett had initially wanted the brothers to splash gasoline on him, according to CBS Chicago. But Osundairo “didn’t think it was safe” and decided to use bleach instead.

Uche was barred from questioning either Osundairo because they had spoken with him early on about possibly representing them in the case, according to the Chicago Tribune. Other members of the defence team accused the brothers of asking Smollett for money not to testify against him, claims the siblings denied.

Toward the end of the first week in Smollett’s trial, the defence filed a motion for a mistrial. Defense attorney Tamara Walker accused Judge James Linn of misconduct, the AP stated, saying he “did physically lunge at me.” Linn denied the allegation, as well as the mistrial motion.