Jussie Smollett was in tears when he entered the courtroom at the Chicago courthouse Saturday morning.
The “Empire” actor testified in the third day of his trial, describing the days before he reported he had been attacked, as well as the shocking moment a gang of men with no ties to him started chanting “MAGA.”
Smollett said that a gang — none of whom were members of his own Chicago-based production team — shouted, “MAGA” before hurling racial and homophobic insults at him.
“‘Build that wall. F–k Trump. He needs to go,’” the men yelled, Smollett said he recalled, after stating in an earlier interview with the police that he felt strongly about social justice.
“He hates black people, Mexican people,” he later recounted they said. “He hates people who are different than him.”
The actor went on to describe being pursued by the men — one of whom also wore a Make America Great Again hat — who punched him, wrapped a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance on him.
He had spoken with detectives about the January 29 attack shortly after it occurred, and told them he thought the men were with his staging a crime to get attention. The Chicago police have said they do not believe Smollett staged the attack.
As Smollett rose to testify on Saturday, he appeared to lean away from the witness stand. He wiped at tears and wiped a blouse of his shirt with tissues.
“Were you also told that you would be leaving this alley and the front door would be damaged at the time that this staged crime was set up?” asked the prosecutor.
“No,” said Smollett.
With tears in his eyes, he then detailed working with the Chicago police, the city’s arts and cultural center and several independent producers who made a short film he directed, whose script he wrote. The point of production was to raise $100,000 to present in a gala in downtown Chicago, he said.
Later, when Smollett was questioned by detectives from the Chicago Police Department, he recalled being confronted with a box containing two ski masks and a noose, which he said they suggested he wear as part of his disguise.
In response to a question about whether he had ever shaved his neck to play a character, Smollett acknowledged he had done so to play another part.
The director of the film directed the attack, he said, but said that he had also never explained why the use of the rope appeared to be part of a costume. The director had threatened to fire Smollett if he did not cooperate, Smollett said.
The men attacked Smollett, he said, adding that they used language suggesting he believed the assault was planned and that he was in on it.
Smollett’s attorney, Gloria Schmidt, immediately fired back after the police department investigated Smollett’s initial interview about the attack. She said that Smollett had requested officers photograph his shirts, so that he could be sure that one of them was the same as the one he was wearing when he was attacked.
The officer involved had not followed up with Smollett’s request, she said.
“I am just sad that my client had to be tortured by the police department,” she said.
In closing arguments, a prosecutor argued that Smollett had committed a crime. The assistant special prosecutor, Victor Henderson, said that Smollett’s actions left the perpetrators with motive to carry out the attack and to return in February to rob the actor’s belongings.