Closing arguments in the Jussie Smollett trial are expected to begin Wednesday, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned already, it’s this: Don’t try to scam a Nigerian.
The contrasting testimonies of the Osundairo brothers and Smollett himself were a perfect illustration of that new truism. Smollett is charged with allegedly filing a false claim in 2019 that he was assaulted by two men who appeared to be Donald Trump supporters and who yelled racist and homophobic slurs during the attack. Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, two brothers from Nigeria and former associates of Smollett, say he paid them to fake the incident.
On the stand, Smollett, a TV actor, was defensive and irritable at simple questions of facts, like why he was aimlessly driving around with the Osundairos before the supposed assault (the Osundairos say that was when he was asking them to stage the event), whether he had text messaged one of the brothers, and why he told police that one of his assailants was “white” and “pale” when in reality the Osundairos couldn’t turn darker if they ran out of breath.
When Special Prosecutor Daniel Webb on Tuesday read aloud text messages Smollett wrote to one of the brothers, Jussie summoned his inner drama queen to ask that Webb not repeat back to him his own use of the n-word, “out of respect for every African American in the courtroom.”
Part of Smollett’s defense is that he was a close friend of Abimbola Osundairo and that Abimbola, a.k.a. “Abel,” was also his physical trainer. At one point, Webb asked Smollett if he had exchanged any messages with Osundairo related to working out the night of the alleged attack. Smollett’s response was no, but that “there’s also no messages about an attack and I’m on trial for an attack that I didn’t do.”
These were, again, very basic questions about recorded evidence and Smollett’s version of events. Yet he was reacting on the stand as if he really had just been called “f— Empire n—.”
By comparison, Smollett’s lawyers went in on Abel Osundairo not with questions about timeline or evidence, but with assertions that he’s a closeted homosexual who must have wanted to violently assault Smollett out of some sick sense of self-hatred. Osundairo was asked about “dating” Smollett (he said he didn’t), about a time that they allegedly masturbated together at a Chicago bathhouse (he denied it ever occurred) and about the “sexual tension” between them (he said he wasn’t aware it existed).
I have no clue if Osundairo is a closeted gay, but if the point was to provoke him by insinuating that he is, Smollett’s team failed to a humiliating degree.
When one person in a trial gets testy because he’s asked to explain himself and another sits still while being accused of sexual deviancy, it should serve as a small indicator as to who may not be exactly the most forthcoming.
Smollett may be the first person to have ever thought he could out-scam a Nigerian. It doesn’t look like it worked, but perhaps he’ll have better luck with the jury.