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Character of Osundairo brothers questioned on second day of Smollett trial

Both the prosecution and defense called the Osundairo brothers' moral character into question on Tuesday, as well as the nature of Jussie Smollett's relationship to the pair.

CHICAGO (CN) — During the second day of actor Jussie Smollett’s criminal disorderly conduct trial Tuesday, the prosecution and defense teams offered the jury competing narratives to explain Smollett's relationship to a pair of Nigerian-Americans, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo. 

To the prosecution, the pair were Smollett's co-conspirators in staging a bogus hate crime, and Smollett could face up to three years in prison if the jury believes that version of events.

But per the defense, Smollett was at best the brothers' mark and at worst the victim of at least Olabinjo — the older brother's — homophobia.

Smollett met the brothers while they were working on the set of “Empire” and seemingly struck up a friendship with Abimbola, the younger brother. On this, both parties agree.

The split in the narratives begins with Michael Theis, a former Chicago Police detective and the lead investigator in the hate crime Smollett allegedly suffered on the early morning of Jan. 29, 2019. Theis spent most of Tuesday morning creating a comprehensive narrative of events leading up to the alleged hate crime that occurred that day; explaining why he believed Smollett staged the hate crime with the Osundairos' help.

Theis pointed out that in the days leading up to the alleged attack, street cameras and cell tower pings captured Smollett's phone and black Mercedes traveling between the Osundairos' home and the area surrounding the alleged hate crime's location. Theis posited that this was Smollett picking the brothers up to "dry run" a bogus attack.

The prosecution also showed the jury text messages between Smollett and Abimbola procured by Theis' investigative team, showing Smollett asking Abimbola for help "on the low." Security camera footage from a local clothes shop also showed the brothers buying clothes that matched the description Smollett gave of his alleged attackers, and paying for it with a single bill. The brothers told detectives in 2019 that Smollett had given them a single $100 bill to pay for all the necessities of the allegedly staged attack.

"The crime was a ... horrible hate crime," Theis said, describing his initial reaction to the case as Smollett reported it. But, he later continued: “At the end of the investigation, we determined that the alleged hate crime was actually a staged event,”

Smollett's lead defense counsel Nenye Uche spent most of Tuesday afternoon poking holes in Theis' assessment of the brothers' and Smolletts' relationship.

Instead of focusing on the evidence Theis presented, Uche focused on the evidence Theis omitted — such as the $3,500 check Smollett wrote Abimbola being earmarked for personal training, or Olabinjo's numerous homophobic social media messages. These included one message calling Smollett a “gay-ass n----.” Uche painted Olabinjo as a homophobe, with a violent criminal history, in whose house police found guns, drugs and multiple cell phones. Perhaps someone capable of committing a violent hate crime. He drilled into Theis on whether detectives ever confronted Olabinjo about his homophobic social media posts. 

“I didn’t ask [Olabinjo] about it,” Theis eventually admitted, after some cajoling.

Theis also admitted during the defense's cross-examination that at least one person on the set of “Empire” had accused Olabinjo of attacking someone on set for being gay — something Theis didn't mention Tuesday morning.

To drive his point home and perhaps imply that police have their own homophobic bias, Uche then showed a video recording of several police detectives discussing the case in 2019. One detective in the clip jokes that someone hit Smollett “in his pretty face.”

Almost immediately upon showing this slide, prosecuting attorney Samuel Mendenhall objected, claiming the slide was irrelevant. Uche vocally defended the clip as part of his argument, and in the overlapping voices, a visibly frustrated presiding Judge James Linn took to shouting.

“So what!?” he shouted.

It isn’t clear who Linn was addressing with this comment — if he was telling Mendenhall “so what” that Uche wanted to bring up the recording, or if he was telling Uche “so what” that the detective made the pretty face comment.

Uche, Smollett and his family took it as the latter. Several of Smollett’s family members shook their heads and could be heard chiding Linn from their reserved seats at the front of the courtroom. Uche requested a moment to confer with his client as several other defense attorneys also seemed indignant. Linn, looking exasperated, granted Uche’s request to confer and instructed the jury to leave the courtroom. They only returned after the mood in the courtroom cooled.

Uche, in his opening arguments on Monday, called Smollett “a real victim” who had suffered “a real crime.” Throughout both days of the trial he has lamented what he called Chicago detectives’ assumptions in investigating the case and their blind spot for the potentially violent homophobia of one of the case’s central characters.

Prosecutors meanwhile have argued that Smollett and the brothers sent the city on a $130,000 goose chase. Mendenhall pointed out the numerous friendly texts Smollett and Abimbola exchanged, and all the corroborating physical evidence Theis' investigation gathered that put Smollett in proximity to the brothers mere hours before the alleged hate crime took place.

"Everything was way too coincidental," Theis said at one point.

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