CLEVELAND — Lawyers for the attorney for actor Jussie Smollett suggested Tuesday that he was motivated by his dissatisfaction with his role in the TV show “Empire,” saying he paid two brothers to carry out an attack on him because he “lacked a sense of self-worth.”
Attorney Tina Glandian said in closing arguments in the courtroom of Judge John Collins that the only motive for Smollett to hire brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo to stage the assault was his “pain and frustration over the diminished role” he has played on the Fox television show.
Glandian said Smollett felt the role had diminished to the point that he “had to go out and create a story that would give him a sense of purpose.”
Smollett, who is black and openly gay, was also angry at losing his role on the show and because he believed his career would suffer, she said.
Smollett has said that two masked men beat him and poured an unknown chemical substance on him and looped a noose around his neck before running away on Jan. 29. In response to the attack, he said, he called police.
Glandian portrayed Smollett as the victim of a hate crime and portrayed the brothers as opportunists who spun Smollett’s story out of his own frustration.
“A crime like this was going to hurt Mr. Smollett. It was going to affect his career,” she said. “He didn’t have the brains to think the story through.”
The brothers, she said, “just came up with their own story to put their hands on money.”
The brothers testified that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the attack. The prosecution says Smollett was unhappy with his salary and wanted publicity to boost his career.
Glandian said that Smollett was “close to exploding” because he “couldn’t do the work. He couldn’t carry out the work.”
“He needed a smile on his face. He needed to walk to the set and pretend everything was fine,” she said.
Smollett, however, told the cast and crew that the men asked him to put the money in his pockets and pointed a gun at him after he had just finished telling them about his successful audition for “Empire,” Glandian said.
She said it’s not believable that Smollett never once reconsidered hiring the brothers to stage the attack after seeing them on “Empire.”
“This is not a cloud over Jussie Smollett. This is a cloud of lies. … It’s not believable. If I was Smollett, I would never hire them again,” she said.
John A. Pfeifer, an attorney for Smollett, has said Smollett would be back on the show “in a heartbeat” if the two brothers turn their stories around.
Smollett started auditioning for roles on “Empire” in 2013 and began in the role of Jamal Lyon, the openly gay half of the show’s lead couple, in 2015. The show airs on Tuesdays, at 9 p.m. EST.
Smollett is the first witness called by prosecutors at the trial. Collins has said he’ll not allow any witnesses to take the stand if there’s a reasonable doubt in the jury’s mind about the guilt of Smollett or one of the brothers.