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Jury selection in trial of Out actor Jussie Smollett begins

Smollett is facing six counts of disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony which carries a potential sentence of up to three years in prison

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Jussie Smollett
Jussie Smollett (Blade file screenshot)

CHICAGO – Selection of jurors to hear the case against actor Jussie Smollett commenced Monday in Cook County circuit court as prosecutors and defence attorneys questioned potential jury members over their exposure to the highly publicized case.

The Chicago Tribune reported that as of about 2:30 p.m.(Central), six people — four men and two women — had been selected for the jury. Judge James Linn then questioned 16 more, and attorneys were huddling in sidebar, discussing which of the most recent group to keep.

Smollett is facing six counts of disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony in Illinois which carries a potential sentence of up to three years in prison. Legal experts have told multiple media outlets that the 39-year-old actor will likely be placed on probation.

The case has stretched out over the past three years. The six counts are related to his alleged staging of a racist and homophobic attack hate crime on himself in 2019.

The former “Empire” star was previously indicted by Cook County prosecutors in February 2019 after law enforcement authorities alleged he had conspired with two black friends to stage the attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary from the Fox series and wanted to generate publicity to boost his career. In March, the charges against him were dropped, with little explanation from prosecutors – though at the time, presiding Judge Michael Toomin suggested that he could be charged again.

The second indictment comes from special prosecutor Dan Webb, who was appointed to the case by Toomin after the initial charges were dropped. In a statement, Webb said that Smollett was charged with six felony counts of disorderly conduct, connected to four separate false reports that he gave to police in which he claimed to be a victim of a hate crime “knowing that he was not the victim of a crime.”

The openly gay, black actor was originally charged with disorderly conduct after evidence emerged he had paid two acquaintances $3500 to help him stage an attack he reported to police on January 29, 2019. Smollett claimed he had been walking home when he was approached by two masked men making racist and homophobic insults, who beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing. He also claimed that at least one of his attackers was white, and that they had told him he was in “MAGA country.”

Smollett arrived at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse around 9 a.m. Monday, walking past a phalanx of news cameras with his mother, Janet, sister Jurnee and brothers Jocqui and Jake, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The paper also reported that Judge Linn limited the presence of media in the courtroom during the jury selection process, which the judge said should wind up later today. Linn also said jurors would stay as late as 7 p.m. during the trial, which he added should end this week or early next.

Linn also said he expected he would be able to seat a jury from the pool of 50 prospective jurors despite the international publicity surrounding a case that has been the subject of countless news stories and late-night comedy punchlines.

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Illinois

Queer Asian-American killed in Chicago’s Palmer Square neighborhood

“Suraj Mahadeva was a victim of gun violence and had his whole life ahead of him and we are heartbroken that his life was cut short”

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Chicago Police cruiser (Screenshot via NBC News)

CHICAGO – Chicago Police Department investigators are still seeking answers in the murder of a 26-year-old queer Asian-American man in the city’s Palmer Square neighborhood. Suraj Mahadeva was standing on the porch of a friend’s home near the intersection of Albany and Dickens avenues when he was shot in the head. Mahadeva later died at hospital.

A close friend, J. Saxon-Maldonado, had heard the gunfire this past Saturday night and who found his friend mortally wounded told CBS 2 WBBM News reporter Charlie De Mar at a memorial service for Mahadeva;

“If they’re watching, I want them to know that we will find you – and we will get justice,” Saxon-Maldonado said.

Saxon-Maldonado said part of him believes Mahadeva was the victim of a random crime — but he also thinks Mahadeva could have been targeted given the brutal nature of the shooting.

“The other the part of me feels like it doesn’t feel random because of the execution-style murder,” said Saxon-Maldonado “The question is who and why, and I am hopeful that we will find that answer so that the family could have some peace.”

Suraj Mahadeva
Photo courtesy of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago

The Center on Halsted, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer community center in Chicago held the memorial service for Mahadeva Thursday evening. According to CBS2, Mahadeva – whose first name means rising sun – was passionate about his Sri Lankan and Filipino heritage and was a beloved member of the community who was a strong LGBTQ advocate and volunteered as a swim instructor.

“Suraj was a beautiful, brilliant person – always charismatic, effervescent, happy,” said Saxon-Maldonado. “I want tonight to be solemn, but also joyful – because that’s what he would have wanted,” Saxon-Maldonado added.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago released a statement Wednesday prior to the memorial service;

We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of another member of the Asian American community, Suraj Mahadeva, who was a victim of gun violence in Palmer Square over the weekend. Suraj had his whole life ahead of him and we are heartbroken that his life was cut short. Suraj was an active member of queer, Filipinx, and South Asian communities across Chicago and the Midwest. He fought for racial and gender justice, including joining Advancing Justice | Chicago and other allies in direct actions for our collective liberation over the past 2 years. We are holding his family, friends, and loved ones in our hearts. Advancing Justice | Chicago will continue to work in solidarity with other communities of color toward long-term solutions to end gun violence.”

Family members said that Mahadeva worked as a medical clinician for a local doctor’s office.

“I’m going to miss his smile and hugs,” said family member named Jen. “I just hope Suraj rests in peace.”

 A GoFundMe has been started, and Mahadeva’s family is expected to have a memorial in the coming days in the Detroit area where he is originally from and the family still resides.

Chicago Police say that no arrests have been made and that the investigation is continuing.

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Illinois

Smollett case; Subway sandwich damaging piece of evidence

He gets attacked & during all this scuffle, they poured bleach on him- he got up, went to his apartment & still had the Subway sandwich

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Former Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson appearing on Morning in America (Screenshot via NewsNation)

CHICAGO – Appearing on “Morning in America,” Friday, the former Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said that multiple factors in the case of actor Jussie Smollett bothered him. The Black and Out Smollett was convicted on five felony charges that he faked a hate crime and was responsible for orchestrating it by a Cook County jury this past week in the 2019 incident.

Johnson told the anchor; “When I initially saw the video of him in his apartment with the noose around his neck, I was concerned, because I don’t think there are many black people in America that would have a noose around their neck, and wouldn’t immediately take it off,” said Johnson. “And then the way he was so nonchalant, handling, it gave me pause for concern, you know, but I would not let the police department make him an offender until the evidence just got to be so overwhelming.”

Chicago’s former top cop also said that the way the actor handled himself in the days after the alleged attack was troublesome and then he noted, “He went to a Subway sandwich shop at like two in the morning to get a sandwich. OK, that’s fine. He comes back gets attacked in a hate crime, supposed hate crime. And during all this scuffle, they poured bleach on him and all of this,” said Johnson. “When he got up and went into his apartment building, he still had this Subway sandwich. Well, that doesn’t happen. When people get attacked like that whatever belongings they have out there, they usually leave it until the police can go back with them because they’re afraid, This guy had the sandwich in his hand and never been touched.”

Screenshot from ‘Morning In America’

Johnson stressed that during the initial phase of the investigation into the alleged attack he treated the actor as a victim and not as a suspect even though there were glaring inconsistencies in the actor’s account and the behaviour he displayed in the aftermath.

Smollett’s legal team also appeared Friday. Nenye Uche, a lawyer for Smollett, continuously backed his client’s innocence.

“He’s a human being. He’s disappointed. Nobody wants to be found guilty of anything within the criminal justice system. He’s disappointed,” said Uche. “But he’s also very confident in the judicial system. He’s confident that he’ll be vindicated on appeal. And that’s why we have appellate courts, sometimes you don’t win, but you will on appeal.”

Screenshot from ‘Morning In America’

Cook County Circuit Judge James Linn set a Jan. 27 hearing date for motions in the case prior to the actor’s sentencing.

Smollett, 39, convicted on five counts of disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony, is facing potential sentencing of up to three years in prison. According to a Chicago criminal defense attorney speaking on background, he contended that based on his experience with the legal system in the Chicago court system, that the actor will likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.

The actor’s lawyers said after the today’s verdict that they are set to file an appeal but his legal problems also extend to the city of Chicago’s civil lawsuit against the “Empire” star demanding he repay the city $130,000 — the cost of the police investigation into the incident he reported as an alleged hate crime.

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Illinois

Jury in the case of Out actor Jussie Smollett reaches guilty verdict

Smollett was convicted on five felony charges that he faked a hate crime and was responsible for orchestrating it

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Jussie Smollett (Blade file Screenshot via YouTube)

CHICAGO – The jury in the case of actor Jussie Smollett has reached a guilty verdict in his trial on five felony charges that he faked a hate crime and was responsible for orchestrating it in January of 2019.

The jury deliberated for just over nine hours Wednesday and Thursday after the one week trial saw closing testimony and arguments Wednesday afternoon.

Smollett, 39, convicted on five counts of disorderly conduct, a class 4 felony, is facing potential sentencing of up to three years in prison. According to a Chicago criminal defense attorney speaking on background, he contended that based on his experience with the legal system in the Chicago court system, that the actor will likely be placed on probation and ordered to perform community service.

Smollett testifying in his own defence told the court that he was physically attacked around 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 29 by two men who hurled homophobic and racist slurs at him including the phrase ‘MAGA country,” a reference to former president Trump’s presidential campaign slogan.

The former “Empire” star was previously indicted by Cook County prosecutors in February 2019 after law enforcement authorities alleged he had conspired with two black friends to stage the attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary from the Fox series and wanted to generate publicity to boost his career. In March, the charges against him were dropped, with little explanation from prosecutors – though at the time, presiding Judge Michael Toomin suggested that he could be charged again.

The second indictment comes from special prosecutor Dan Webb, who was appointed to the case by Toomin after the initial charges were dropped. In a statement, Webb said that Smollett was charged with six felony counts of disorderly conduct, connected to four separate false reports that he gave to police in which he claimed to be a victim of a hate crime “knowing that he was not the victim of a crime.”

After initially investigating the incident as a hate crime, Chicago detectives in their sworn affidavits and testimony noted that their investigation uncovered that Smollett paid brothers Olabinjo (“Ola”) and Abimbola (“Abel”) Osundairo, who are from Nigeria to stage the attack.

During their testimony last week, the Osundairo brothers told the court that the actor had recruited them to fake the attack near his home in downtown Chicago. They testified that Smollett who is openly gay and Black instructed them to put a noose around his neck, yell racist and homophobic slurs, and rough him up in view of a nearby surveillance camera.

Evidence presented by the prosecutors showed the two brothers in a local retail store purchasing the rope and other items used to stage the attack that Chicago police determined the actor paid for.

On Wednesday, special prosecutor Dan Webb told the jury that Smollett caused Chicago police to spend enormous resources investigating what they believe was a fake crime the Associated Press reported.

“Besides being against the law, it is just plain wrong to outright denigrate something as serious as a real hate crime and then make sure it involved words and symbols that have such historical significance in our country,” Webb said.

Webb also cast doubts on Smollett’s integrity and credibility in his testimony telling jurors that the surveillance video from before the alleged attack and that later night contradicts key moments of Smollett’s account of the events.

Smollett’s defense attorney Nenye Uche disputed the Osundairo brothers testimony labeling them “sophisticated liars” who may have been motivated to attack the actor because of homophobia or because they wanted to be hired to work as his security. “These guys want to make money,” he told the court.

The special prosecutor during the trial also took aim at the actor’s refusal to turn over his cellphone to investigators or give them a DNA sample or access to his medical records to help with the investigation. Smollett testified he doesn’t trust Chicago police, and that he was concerned about his privacy.

“If he was a true victim of a crime he would not be withholding evidence,” Webb said.

Smollett’s defense attorney told the court that it was “nonsense” for police to ask the actor for his DNA when he was still considered the victim of a crime. He also noted Smollett later provided DNA to the FBI for a separate investigation into hate mail he had received at the studio for the ‘Empire’ shortly before the alleged attack. “He wasn’t hiding anything,” Uche said.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Smollett remained stoic as the verdict was announced. He was found guilty on five of six counts. The first five counts related to Smollett’s conduct on the day of the incident, while the sixth related to his conversation with a police detective.

Cook County Circuit Judge James Linn set a Jan. 27 hearing date for motions in the case prior to the actor’s sentencing.

The actor’s lawyers said after the today’s verdict that they are set to file an appeal but his legal problems also extend to the city of Chicago’s civil lawsuit against the “Empire” star demanding he repay the city $130,000 — the cost of the police investigation into the incident he reported as an alleged hate crime.

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