Singer, who denies lying to police about an attack he reported in late January, testifies at his own trial in Chicago
Actor Jussie Smollett has testified in his own trial that he and the prosecution’s star witness had a sexual relationship, insisting his friend, Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo, was his full-time boyfriend.
The musician’s testimony has shown how the legal hurdles facing the actor, who is accused of lying to police in the aftermath of an alleged racist and homophobic attack he reported on 2 January, have increasingly become a thematic clash between the defence and prosecution.
On Thursday, Smollett’s legal team announced they were going to introduce into evidence a “tape of phone conversations” between Osundairo and his defense lawyer, Gloria Schmidt, in the hours before the actor’s alleged attack.
In a phone call from the hospital, from which the actor has not been heard since, Osundairo confirms he has gone to the police with the story of an attack.
Cook County prosecutors have not said how Smollett was able to speak to his defence team in the weeks since the attack and have been particularly guarded in their questioning of Osundairo.
On Thursday, he vehemently denied he had suggested to Schmidt, or anyone else, that Smollett had planned the attack in advance. “I am absolutely not … I never made any insinuation,” he said, leading Schmidt to reply that “you know in your heart that didn’t happen.”
Jussie Smollett is questioned in his first day of testimony at the Cook County courthouse in Chicago. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP
Prosecutors allege Smollett paid Osundairo to carry out the attack, for $3,500, on 19 January, because he feared his career was in jeopardy.
Osundairo was earlier described by Cook County prosecutor Renee Rollins as “the actor’s go-to guy”, with the actor using him repeatedly to do personal errands and advance his career, which included starring in an undisclosed Fox TV show.
Smollett repeatedly referred to the jury as his friends and said it would be good to have them as some of them had known him for 15 years. He praised them and the judge as “among the best”.
Smollett is a lifelong resident of Chicago and an employee of the radio broadcaster Premiere Radio Networks. He said he and his 18-year-old friend were both in Chicago for the weekend to attend parties, including a Fox event, and were treated to drinks and meals.
The actor explained their relationship began when he invited him to a birthday party for comedian Wanda Sykes, who he described as “wonderful and dear”. He said that after the party they had drinks and watched TV together and that he had a lot of time with Osundairo.
He described how he told him that his mother, Renee Smollett, heaped praise on him after seeing him on the hit Fox series Empire. He described that the two of them did a lot of “nocturnal drinking” and left the apartment “with a smile on our faces”.
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He said there was “no secret society, no one keeping secrets”.
He said he was then taken to a hotel and treated to a meal before telling his friend he was going to be late for the studio because he had arranged to have an extra hour of his shift during the day. Osundairo agreed to help him and later was paid for some of the work he did in the studio, Smollett said.
Smollett said he sent the letter to his professional address from his personal one, not the one he had given to police, because “this wasn’t my house”.