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Jury begins deliberations in Jussie Smollett trial

Attorneys presented their closing arguments to the jury on Wednesday, the eighth day of trial for the actor and singer accused of staging and reporting a fake hate crime.

CHICAGO (CN) — Attorneys in former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett’s criminal case presented their closing arguments to the jury on Wednesday, bringing eight days of testimony and argument to a close. Smollett faces six counts of criminal disorderly conduct for allegedly staging and falsely reporting a hate crime on Jan 29, 2019.

If found guilty, Smollett could potentially face up to three years in prison.

The prosecution closed its arguments in much the same way it opened them last week: presenting and meticulously explaining a large amount of evidence to the jury. Lead prosecuting attorney Dan Webb spent more than two hours connecting the available physical evidence to testimony provided by witnesses over the course of the trial.

Webb said the prosecution had more than proven Smollett’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He repeatedly returned to the assertion that Smollett lied to both police and on the witness stand while giving his testimony.

“He lied, under oath, to you in this trial,” Webb said.

Webb questioned Smollett’s honesty regarding Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, the two brothers who say they were paid by Smollett to help stage the alleged hate crime. Abimbola, the younger brother, said Smollett texted him on Jan. 25, 2019, asking for his help “on the low.”

Smollett said in his testimony that this was a request for Abimbola, who is Nigerian American and was going to Nigeria that February, to pick him up an herbal weight loss steroid that is illegal in the U.S. but available in the African country.

Abimbola, in his own testimony last week, denied this. He said the “on the low” text was in reference to Smollett asking for help in planning the alleged attack. He denied such a steroid ever existed.

“What steroid do you think is legal in Nigeria that you can’t get in the U.S.?” Webb asked Smollett in cross-examination on Monday. Smollett replied that he believed such steroids existed, but did not know any specific names.

Smollett’s testimony also directly contradicted Abimbola’s testimony that the pair did not have a sexual relationship. Smollett gave explicit testimony that the two engaged in sexual acts in a bathhouse in Chicago, including the night they met in a nearby nightclub.

“It was a club. You go into a stall, you do a bump … and we kept it going at the bathhouse,” Smollett said.

On the stand, Abimbola denied being gay and said he and Smollett were just friends.

Smollett’s defense team reversed the prosecution’s allegations, claiming it was the Osundairo brothers who were lying. Lead defense attorney Nenye Uche went so far as to classify the brothers as “con men” and “the worst kind of criminals.”

“They’re certified liars,” Uche said of the brothers. “They lied to the court, they lied to this jury.”

Uche cited discrepancies between testimony the brothers gave last week and the testimony they gave to the grand jury in 2019. Back then, Uche pointed out, Abimbola testified that a $3,500 check he received from Smollett was payment only for a meal and exercise plan he made for the actor. Last week, Abimbola said on the witness stand that he believed the check was payment not only for the meal and exercise plan, but for helping to plan the alleged hoax.

“They’re chameleons,” Uche said.

Beyond the Osundairo brothers, the defense team characterized the prosecution’s case as fundamentally weak, a “house of cards” built on a selective reading of the evidence. While the prosecution made a point of mentioning that Smollett was reluctant to turn over DNA evidence to detectives, Uche reminded the jury that Smollett later did turn over DNA to the FBI.

Uche also brought up that the lead investigator in Smollett’s hate crime case, former Chicago police detective Michael Theis, did not investigate a car seen driving alongside the Osundairo brothers on the night of the alleged attack. Theis, in his testimony, said he ruled the car out because the brothers left the scene in a cab. But Uche called this bad detective work and suggested it casts a pall over the entire investigation.

“Who is he … why am I doing detective Theis’ job for him?” Uche asked, regarding the driver of the mystery car.

He later added, “This is America. You don’t convict someone because you think they did it, you prove it.”

Closing arguments wrapped up with the prosecution’s rebuttal, delivered by attorney Samuel Mendenhall. He pointed out that the defense very little counter-evidence, saying they merely tried to poke holes in the prosecution’s case. This lack of evidence, he said, damned the defense.

“Facts matter, truth matters, evidence still matters,” Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall seemed particularly incensed, almost to the point of tears, at Uche’s characterization of the Osundairo brothers as criminals. He reminded the jury that the guns found in Abimbola’s apartment, which Uche used to openly question if the brothers were running a trap house out of the home, were legal. Though suspected drugs had been found in the apartment, Mendenhall said they were undated and could have been decades old.

While conceding that Olabinjo did have a 2011 conviction for aggravated battery, Mendenhall countered that he has since gone on to start his own business. Mendenhall, who is Black, said he considered Olabinjo a success story of a young Black man’s recovery from legal trouble.

Abimbola, meanwhile, has no criminal convictions.

“You have not heard one shred of evidence that Abimbola Osundairo is a criminal. Look through your notes,” Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall concluded his comments shortly afterwards. Presiding Judge James Linn reminded the jury of their responsibilities and dismissed them from the courtroom to begin deliberating.

The jury had not returned a verdict by the time Linn dismissed jurors at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Deliberations are set to resume on Thursday.

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