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Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett arrives at court for his arraignment on renewed felony charges in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. February 24, 2020. Image Credit: REUTERS

Jussie Smollett, frustrated by what he saw as a muted reaction to a death threat he had received in the mail, enlisted a friend in 2019 to stage a fake attack that would grab public attention, the friend testified Wednesday at the actor’s trial.

Abimbola Osundairo, the younger of the two brothers who have said they took part in what they describe as a hoax, said the strange request had come after Smollett showed him an image of a threatening letter he had received. It featured a red stick figure hanging from a noose, a gun pointed at the figure and the acronym MAGA on it.

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Abimbola Osundairo at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse courtroom after a lunch break in the trial of actor Jussie Smollett Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, in Chicago. Image Credit: AP

Smollett later arranged a meeting with him, Osundairo said, after sending him a text message in which Smollett said he needed help “on the low.” At the meeting, they discussed how the television studio behind “Empire,” the show they both worked on, was not taking the letter seriously, Osundairo told the court.

“He said he wanted me to beat him up,” Osundairo said. “I looked puzzled, and then he explained he wanted me to fake beat him up.”

Osundairo testified during the third day of Smollett’s trial on charges that he filed a false police report about the attack, a case that largely relies on the accounts of Osundairo and his brother, Olabinjo Osundairo, who say Smollett devised the attack.

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Actor Jussie Smollett, center, arrives with his mother Janet, left, and other family members at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse for day three of his trial in Chicago on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Smollett is accused of lying to police when he reported he was the victim of a racist, anti-gay attack in downtown Chicago nearly three years ago. Image Credit: AP

Smollett has denied staging the January 29, 2019, attack, and his lawyers have suggested that the brothers have fabricated the account to avoid prosecution.

“He wanted me to tussle and throw him to the ground and give him a bruise while my brother Ola would pour bleach on him and put a rope around him, and then we would run away,” Abimbola Osundairo testified.

Osundairo, 28, said his friendship with the actor had started in 2017 and grew to a point that Osundairo would refer to Smollett as his “big brother.” Osundairo said Smollett had helped him secure a job as a stand-in for more prominent actors on ‘Empire,’ a gesture that Osundairo said had left him feeling “indebted” to Smollett. He said he had ended up standing in for Smollett’s character’s love interest on the show.

It is unclear whether prosecutors will also seek testimony from Osundairo’s older brother, Olabinjo, 30, who also appeared on ‘Empire’ and, although he was not as close to Smollett, has told investigators he was brought in to assist with the attack. Olabinjo Osundairo is on a list of potential witnesses.

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Actor Jussie Smollett’s defense attorney Nenye Uche heads back to the courtroom Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse. Image Credit: AP

The brothers have told police that on the day before the attack was supposed to take place, Smollett drove them around the Streeterville neighbourhood of Chicago, where he lived, showing them where he wanted the attack to occur. The brothers say Smollett gave them a $100 bill to buy supplies for the attack, including ski masks, a rope and a red hat meant to indicate that the attackers were supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

The special prosecutor handling the case, Dan Webb, said earlier in the trial that on January 29, the brothers waited for Smollett near the proposed spot — in subzero temperatures — and when the actor arrived, they beat him lightly, put the rope around his neck and poured bleach on him from a hot sauce bottle. Abimbola Osundairo said that as a car approached, the two brothers had run away and hailed a cab to take them home.

Osundairo said Smollett had instructed him to send a “condolence text” the next morning once the local news media reported the events.

“Bruh say it ain’t true,” Osundairo texted the actor. “I’m praying for a speedy recovery.”

The defense, which had not yet started its questioning of Osundairo on Wednesday, has in its opening statement and cross-examination sought to undermine the brothers’ accounts. Smollett’s lead lawyer, Nenye Uche, called the brothers “self-confessed attackers” and said both men “did not like” Smollett.

On Tuesday, Uche suggested in his questioning of a detective, Michael Theis, who investigated Smollett’s hate crime report, that police had not properly looked into accusations that Olabinjo Osundairo had a history of making homophobic statements.

Prosecutors sought Wednesday to blunt that suggested motivation. Abimbola Osundairo was asked whether the fact that Smollett is gay had affected their friendship, and he said it had not.

The defence has also focused on guns and drugs found in the brothers’ home after their arrest in February 2019. But Theis said Abimbola Osundairo had a valid license to own the guns, as well as proof of ownership. He said police had found a “very small amount” of cocaine in a bag inside the lining of a safe.

(Olabinjo Osundairo was convicted of aggravated battery several years ago and is not allowed to own a gun.)

Two additional Chicago detectives testified Wednesday. One of them, Kimberly Murray, said that she had interviewed Smollett in the hospital a few hours after the attack and that he had told her that he was walking toward the lobby of his apartment talking on the phone to his agent when he heard one of his attackers yell racist and homophobic slurs at him.

She testified that Smollett had told her that he was struck on the left side of the face and kicked in his back and ribs; he said he had felt a tugging around his neck before the attackers fled. The actor told her that as he had left the scene, he noticed a rope “fastened like a noose” around his neck and that when he had returned to his apartment, he noticed that his sweatshirt smelled like bleach.

Murray told the court that in the hospital interview, Smollett had described one of his attackers as a white man wearing a ski mask. (He said he could tell the man was white from the exposed skin around his eyes and the bridge of his nose).

A second detective, Robert Graves, testified Wednesday that Smollett had been interviewed a couple of weeks after the attack and had described one of his attackers as “pale-skinned,” not white, as he had said previously.