Damaging testimony this week rocked the trial of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who according to a key witness, recruited him and his brother to stage an attack on the actor after the studio did not take his security concerns seriously.
Abimbola Osundairo on the witness stand Wednesday, December 1, said he and Smollett went for a drive after they met at the Cinespace studios in late January 2019. He said Smollett showed him a photo of a letter he’d received at the studio days earlier depicting a gun and a stick figure hanging by a noose. Osundairo said after showing him the photo, Smollett told him to beat him up.
“He told me that we would need another person to fake beat him up and he mentioned could my brother do it? I said yes,” Osundairo testified.
Osundairo told the jury that he agreed to go along with the plan because he felt indebted to Smollett, who got him a stand-in role on “Empire,” the former hit show on the Fox network.
Osundairo also said he knew Smollett could help him further his acting career. Osundairo worked on “Empire” from 2016 to early 2019, first as an extra and then as a stand-in actor.
Osundairo then gave a detailed account of how the alleged staged attack played out. He said Smollett drove to the North Side and pulled the car into an alley near the brothers’ apartment, where Olabinjo Osundairo joined them.
“He told Ola he would want us to fake beat him up, then we went over the details of what he wanted us to say and do,” Abimbola Osundairo testified.
Abimbola Osundairo then testified that Smollett specifically requested of them that they yell “Empire” and the pro-Trump slogan “MAGA,” as well as scream slurs.
“He wanted me to punch him but he wanted me to pull the punch so I don’t hurt him … my brother Ola would tie the noose around his neck and pour bleach on him,” Abimbola Osundairo testified.
Osundairo said the men went through a “dry run” for the attack for January 27, where final details would be worked out, he said.
The testimony is damaging to Smollett’s defense team.
The brothers remain central figures in the case because of their involvement and first-hand knowledge of the attack. The brothers were first labeled criminals but later emerged as conspirators who later worked with Chicago police to expose Smollett’s alleged hoax.
Abimbola Osundairo graduated from Lakeview High School and fell in love with acting while in college at Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois. He testified that he landed a spot as an extra in Spike Lee’s “Chiraq,” and that Lee “hand-picked” him to move up to a singing role.
In his first year as a stand-in actor for “Empire,” Abimbola Osundairo said he didn’t meet or get to know Smollett. He said he met Smollett in the fall of 2017 when a mutual friend invited him to Smollett’s house.
For the next year and a half, Osundairo said he and Smollett would hang out once or twice a month, often going to nightclubs, strip clubs, or bathhouses. Abimbola Osundairo said his younger brother joined them to hang out a handful of times and Smollett would ask the brothers to buy him weed, molly, and cocaine.
Smollett’s attorneys said the brothers were opportunistic liars who were homophobic. But during cross-examination by Special Prosecutor Dan Webb, Osundairo said Smollett’s homosexuality did not interfere with their friendship.
Osundairo, as an amateur boxer, said he founded “Team Abel” on an Instagram page. The business later grew to include health plans for clients.
“We got into creating diet or meal plans and exercise plans for people because they liked the way we looked, and they were inspired,” he said.
Osundairo said in January 2019, Smollett asked him to help him get physically toned for an upcoming music video shoot. Osundairo said he put together a meal and exercise plan for Smollett for free. He said he usually charges $30 to $80 apiece for the plans.
Osundairo testified that the meal plan would include Starkist tuna, chicken thighs, and avocados. Abimbola Osundairo said he advised the actor to drink two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water before each meal.
Detective Robert Graves, who interviewed Smollett, testified Wednesday that Smollett changed part of his story after he realized the Osundairo brothers were in police custody.
Graves said Smollett had initially described one of his attackers as white. But Graves said about two weeks later, Smollett came in for another police interview, where he said the attacker was “pale-skinned.”
The trial is expected to last into next week.