The trial of a US actor accused of fabricating a hate crime against himself kicked off Monday in Chicago with jury selection.
Former Empire star Jussie Smollett was accused in 2019 of orchestrating a hoax racist attack in the Midwestern city to gain publicity and secure a bigger paycheque.
The 39-year-old pleaded not guilty to accusations that he planned and participated in the alleged assault. He is also accused of making false statements to police.
The trial could end Friday or early next week, Judge James Linn said at the start of the proceedings.
Smollett, who had been one of the main cast members on Empire, reported to police in January 2019 that he was attacked in the middle of the night by two masked men while walking near his home in Chicago.
But police eventually said he staged the whole thing.
Smollett, who is gay and African-American, maintained his innocence in the face of a damning public account from authorities of their case against him.
They accused him of sending himself a threatening letter – complete with homophobic and racial slurs – and hiring two acquaintances, brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, to stage the attack while invoking Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
The case got even weirder when Cook County prosecutors eventually dropped the initial 16 felony counts against him in March 2019.
The city did, however, send a letter to Smollett’s attorneys, asking the actor to pay the $130 000 cost of overtime work related to the police investigation.
He was indicted again in February 2020 by a grand jury in Cook County, which handles crimes in Chicago, on six counts of disorderly conduct related to the alleged false reporting.
It is unclear whether Smollett – who was dropped from Empire once the allegations against him surfaced – will testify at his trial. But the Osundairo brothers are expected to take the stand.
Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, who is representing the Osundairo brothers, told reporters in February 2020 after Smollett’s second indictment that her clients “want the public to know that they were open and honest and remorseful about their conduct.”
“They have been truthful since day one, and they will continue to be truthful,” she said.