Jury selection is underway in a Chicago courtroom in the case of Jussie Smollett, who is accused of faking a hate crime against himself nearly three years ago.
Smollett, onetime star of “Empire,” faces six counts of “disorderly conduct” for allegedly filing a false police report about the attack. Smollett, who is Black and gay, has maintained that he was assaulted on Jan. 29, 2019, by two men who yelled homophobic and racist slurs, put a rope around his neck and yelled “This is MAGA country.”
Jurors are expected to hear from two brothers, Abel and Ola Osundairo, who have said that Smollett paid them $3,500 to carry out the attack. Smollett has denied that.
The trial is expected to last about a week. According to pool reporters in the courtroom, Judge James Linn said he expected to complete jury selection on Monday, and perhaps get into opening statements and begin some testimony before ending the trial for the day.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office initially dropped the charges against Smollett in March 2019. But in a highly unusual development, a retired judge filed a petition arguing that Smollett had received preferential treatment and seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Judge Michael P. Toomin agreed and appointed Daniel Webb as a special prosecutor to reinvestigate the case, as well as the handling of the case by the office of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. Webb brought a six-count indictment against Smollett in February 2020. Webb also issued a report in August 2020 finding “substantial abuses of discretion and operational failures” by Foxx’s office in its handling of the matter.
Prospective jurors have been asked whether they know any of the witnesses or are familiar with “Empire” and TMZ. Linn has denied media requests for cameras in the courtroom, and during jury selection only a couple of pool reporters were allowed inside due to social distancing requirements.