Closing arguments begin in Jussie Smollett trialMatthew Hendricksonon December 8, 2021 at 3:45 pm

Flanked by family members, supporters, attorneys and bodyguards, former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Wednesday. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Special prosecutors began their closing arguments in the seven-day trial about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, asking jurors to find the former “Empire” actor guilty of the six counts of disorderly conduct he faces in connection with the alleged hoax.

Actor Jussie Smollett’s fate will soon be handed over to a Cook County jury tasked with determining whether the actor lied to police when he said he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack nearly three years ago.

Special prosecutors began their closing arguments in the seven-day trial about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, asking jurors to find the former “Empire” actor guilty of the six counts of disorderly conduct he faces in connection with the alleged hoax.

“We have proven this by overwhelming evidence,” Special Prosecutor Dan Webb told the jury.

Webb’s opening statement last week promised to prove Smollett violated the law but also pointed at the serious, wider implications the actor’s allegedly false statements have had.

“When he reported the fake hate crime as a real hate crime, that violated Illinois law,” Webb said.

The veteran attorney added it was also “just plain wrong that Mr. Smollett, as a successful Black actor, openly gay person, would denigrate something as serious as a hate crime and then just pretend one occurred when it didn’t occur.”

Defense attorneys countered that Smollett was innocent and the Chicago Police Department took the word of two bodybuilding brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who claimed the actor was the true mastermind behind the allegedly staged attack in a rush to judgment.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Former federal prosecutor Dan Webb, who was appointed special prosecutor in the Jussie Smollett case, walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Wednesday.

Word that the popular actor had been beaten by two men as he walked home from a sandwich shop in the freezing cold on Jan. 29, 2019, quickly made international headlines.

That his alleged attackers had yelled racist and anti-gay slurs at him, doused him in bleach and hung a thin rope noose around his neck in the attack — while supposedly wearing a red hat and shouting President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan — elevated the crime to “an attempted modern-day lynching” as Vice President Kamala Harris wrote on Twitter shortly after the news broke.

But rumors that the case was not what it first appeared to be cast a shadow on the actor soon after.

The legal stakes for Smollett are fairly low. The actor would likely be sentenced to probation if he’s found guilty due to his lack of a criminal background. But the damage the case has done to the actor over three years in the court of public opinion could be a life sentence for his career.

After he was charged, Smollett was written off the hit television drama and his attempt to branch out into music with the release of his first album stalled.

Even if he is acquitted, the road back to stardom for the actor would seem exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.

The allegations that Smollett faked the attack for publicity “made him a pariah,” lead defense attorney Nenye Uche acknowledged at the start of the actor’s trial last week.

Still, a not guilty verdict would at least give the actor a shallow hold to cling to if he tried to rebuild his career.

Smollett testified that he was riding high in the winter of 2019 and about to film an episode of “Empire” in which his character, Jamal Lyon, was to marry another man — the first gay Black male marriage on network TV. Smollett’s music career was blossoming, and his “Empire” salary had nearly tripled from the first season.

Smollett testified that he didn’t want to call police after the attack, fearing that if it became public that he’d been beaten up, it would hurt his chances of scoring traditionally masculine acting roles. The publicity that came after the assault became news — hoax or not— boosted his profile, and the fallout after police charged him for allegedly staging the hate crime quickly killed his career.

“Since this incident happened have you gotten and secured significant roles in Hollywood or in TV or commercials?” Uche asked Smollett.

“No,” the actor said flatly.

“Did you gain anything?” Uche asked.

“I’ve lost my livelihood,” Smollett said.

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