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Jussie Smollett in Court over Possible Hoax Attack; Analysis of the Case. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired February 21, 2019 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAITH JENKINS, FORMER PROSECUTOR: And I do think he has some good attorneys on the case -- will be to now get out in front of this after this hearing, talk to prosecutors, and come up with a deal.
I think, for them, it would be a win if he does not go to jail in a case like this. It is very serious for you to make allegations like this. And, if it turns out to be a hoax, if it turns out to be a hoax, you look at the Chicago police, they're busy.
They have a lot of things happening. They have enough issues putting resources behind crimes as it is. They don't need made-up crimes to distract from that. And so you're looking at a huge allocation of resources that went into something that could turn out to very well be a hoax. That's very serious.
And I think that the prosecutors in the state and the police department, they're going to make -- they're going to want to set an example that this simply is not acceptable.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Hang on, Mark. I have a question for you if you were to defend him.
But let me go back to the courthouse and to Ryan Young, who is getting a little more detail.
Ryan, tell me what you know.
RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, we're hearing that the defense has actually called this is -- hold on one second. I'm getting a cue here.
OK. They're asking him to surrender his passport. That's what we're hearing so far that is going on in the court. You guys came to me as we were getting just some information. Brooke, you know how this plays out.
We know his body language has seemed like -- seem like he's closing his eyes, he's shaking his head. These text messages are being read out loud. All this is happening right there in the court. I think that part is the embarrassing part, because you know not only that. They even talked about there some phone communication after the attack. So, a day later, he called. The phone call lasted five seconds. Then the phone call lasted about a minute.
Brad, what did -- the last part was? So it was a D-Bond? D, $100,000 bail.
YOUNG: And this is happening right now, so I'm just getting the information as it's streaming in. Brooke, you know how this happens.
BALDWIN: It's cool. It's live TV.
YOUNG: So, what will probably happen here is, he will get that bond. And as soon as he gets that bond, he will probably have to walk through these doors at some point. This has lasted a little longer than we thought it would.
Some of this information is coming out so quickly. But his D-Bond happened, $100,000, I'm sure he will be able to post that. And then he will walk out this direction.
BALDWIN: I see people walking out.
YOUNG: So, it will probably happen in the next few seconds. Absolutely.
I'm going to duck my head now, as you see all the reporters coming this direction. We might actually have the family or Jussie actually come this way in a second.
Bear with us for a little bit. We are in a portion of the court where we can't actually see the courtroom from where we're standing. Cameras can't go beyond the point where you see the men walking this direction. This is the line that we're at.
Our crews who are on the inside obviously giving us a heads-up about what's going on. And that's who has been reading everything to us as it's been going on, because the judge would allow text messages, but that's it, on the inside.
BALDWIN: OK. We're staying with you, Ryan. It looks like a lot of reporters buried in their phones, passing information on.
We're going to stay on this live picture here. And were you just getting from Brad, your producer -- oh, there is Nick coming out.
YOUNG: Hold on. I have Nick. Nick, come here. I got Nick.
BALDWIN: Yes. Let's just do this on live TV. Fix that tie, Nick Watt. Let's go.
YOUNG: Live TV.
BALDWIN: You're on TV, my man.
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure.
YOUNG: Can you tell us what happened on the inside?
WATT: Well, Jussie Smollett's family was in there.
When Jussie Smollett was brought out, the family stood. The state then put their case forward. They explained exactly how they think this went down, and what they think happened is that Jussie Smollett orchestrated this entire thing.
He even took those two brothers to the location. He pointed at a camera and said to them, that's where -- that's the camera that will capture this event. He told the brothers to put a noose around his neck. He told the brothers initially to throw gasoline on him.
That was then changed later to bleach. He was, the state says, involved from the very beginning. He also -- the state also claims that one of those brothers was the supplier of street drugs to Jussie Smollett.
WATT: In the defense, they said, listen, this is an upstanding citizen. He does a lot of philanthropic work. He is not a flight risk. He needs to get back on set.
They also said that FOX had pushed the shooting schedule. He's supposed to be shooting about 45 minutes from now. They pushed that schedule back. Now, the judge then gave his verdict. The judge, who is an African-American judge, said that there is a presumption of innocence, of course, but if this is true, it is utterly despicable.
And he spoke specifically about that noose. He said, in this country, that noose -- he then said that a bond of no money down was inappropriate. So bail was posted at $100,000, but it's what's called a D-Bond, so Smollett will have to pay $10,000.
He will be under supervision. And he also has to surrender his passport. YOUNG: I have got to ask the question about his body language,
though. What was that like? Because Brooke and I were wondering about that.
WATT: He was stone-faced. He was wearing a black puffer jacket. He looked -- I don't really know how to describe it. He didn't have much of an expression on his face. He was kind of stone-faced. He spoke only to confirm his name and stood there.
His family stood up, by the way, during the entire proceeding, obviously showing their support.
YOUNG: I can't imagine the family having to sit through that. What were their reactions? Sort of could you read their body language a little bit?
WATT: They were similar. Ryan, they were standing there solidly stone-faced, looking towards the front, just there, I presume, standing up in support.
YOUNG: One of the things that stood out to me was the idea about the phone calls after the attack. Can you describe that for us?
Now, so, allegedly, Jussie Smollett made a very short five-second phone call to one of the brothers. The brother then called him back. Now, those brothers then flew to Nigeria immediately after the attack. And there was also phone contact between Smollett and the brothers when they were in Istanbul.
I'm presuming that was on a layover on their way to Nigeria. But actually one of the other things that the judge said is that now Smollett can have absolutely no contact with those witnesses or their family in any way, social media, text message, nothing.
YOUNG: And $100 for supplies?
WATT: Yes. So Jussie Smollett allegedly wrote them a check for $3,500, a personal check, to pay them for what they're doing, and he gave them a $100 bill.
And then on the morning of the attack, that $100 bill was used to purchase the rope that was then fashioned into this noose and the clothes those two brothers were wearing at the time.
Now, the other interesting thing is, the attack was supposed to take place the night of the 28th. But Smollett's plane was delayed coming in from New York, so it was pushed towards 2:00 a.m. But one of the things that was very obvious from the state's case here is they laid out in detail every step of the way, and Jussie Smollett was driving this every single step of the way.
YOUNG: We're getting that sense here, as we're looking back this direction to see if anyone's coming this direction. We believe in hopefully the next few minutes that they will walk this
direction. That's what we have been told. You heard about that D- Bond.
So, Brooke, I don't know if you guys are going to come back to us at some point. But right now this is what everybody is waiting -- they're actually going to come up to the mic, I believe, and give a conversation from the state.
So that is going to happen. The district attorney's office is going to come up here and give a conversation about some of their evidence. If you guys want to stick with that, that might happen.
But here we go here. They're passing out -- I'm going to go over here and get this. Can I have one, too, please?
BALDWIN: What are they passing out, Ryan?
YOUNG: So they're passing out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's just the proffer.
YOUNG: Excuse me.
So, Brooke, you're seeing this play out, the live crush of media, as the district attorney's office is going to walk out that direction at some point. They're providing sort of a list of the charges and everything that was read in court, as Nick Watt did an excellent job kind of explaining the color of what happened in court.
You see this sort of media free-for-all that's happening right now. But what we believe will happen is that the folks that are here are going to walk over and they're going to basically read this. So I don't know if we will get any questions to them about their case, but that will more than likely happen.
BALDWIN: I have got a question for you, Ryan.
YOUNG: Go ahead. Go ahead.
BALDWIN: I got a question.
And, listen, I appreciate this is all unfolding in front of our very eyes. But listening to Nick and talking about the role of these two brothers, and listening to the Chicago police superintendent earlier, I believe one of the words, how he characterized them, was victims, right, and how they finally broke at hour 47 of the 48 hours they have to hold people without actually charging them.
But they were paid. They were in on this. They were -- were they not co-conspirators?
BALDWIN: And will they not face charges as well?
YOUNG: That's an excellent question.
I think, Brooke, the reason why we might not see that is because they have come forward and given so much of the information to police.
YOUNG: And maybe that's what they were told to make them talk and break in that 48th hour. So that's what's very interesting. So, you know, Nick gave a pretty good breakdown of that works.
BALDWIN: He did.
YOUNG: But last night the attorneys said to us they didn't get a deal. When we were talking to the police department, we were told some folks thought they may get a deal.
The reason why they talked to the grand jury is because they wanted to lock their statements in. The state doesn't need them anymore. They have got all the stuff in paperwork. That's all happened at this point. Now you see some of this media crush that is happening right now as people want to get these bits of information because so many people couldn't make it into court.
It was only the first three rows were for press. In this state, you can't shoot this bond hearing, because, you know, this would have played out on live television. Everyone would have been watching, especially as the state read this stuff out.
We had to have a sketch artist on the inside. So, when he comes out, he will give us some of the sketches from the inside and maybe you will get some of the expressions from Jussie on the inside. So, just making sure nobody slips behind me.
BALDWIN: Yes. No, Ryan, I'm going to let you do your thing. I'm going to let you do your thing. You have been phenomenal. And we're going to put you in front of that camera the second you see someone step in front of a podium or the second you get more information.
And please thank Nick Watt for doing that on the fly. We really appreciate it. Incredible color there from the courtroom.
BALDWIN: Let me bring back my lawyers, Faith Jenkins and Mark O'Mara.
And, Mark, just to have you react to, all right. It was a D-Bond. That means $100,000. Jussie Smollett pays 10k. He's got to give up his passport. That's pretty standard.
Just -- first, just your gut reaction to what's just been reported out.
MARK O'MARA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, the bond amount is perfect; $100,000 is fine. That's all appropriate. Giving up his passport makes sense. Keep him in the country.
My real frustration is how he acted the way he did. And as was mentioned by Faith, he does need to get around this very quickly. There is no reason to let this thing play out very long. If the fact is and the facts come out as they are now purported -- and, Brooke, you know, I always am one to say let's wait until all the facts come out.
O'MARA: But if they are as they are now, it was absurd what he did.
My concern, more just with him and what he did to himself, is, I have got a dozen or 15 civil rights cases pending right now, most of which rely at least in part on believing my client when he said he's been abused or mistreated, sometimes by police.
This fact, this case is now going to have what I think I would call the Smollett effect, because now jurors, judges, prosecutors, civil lawyers are now going to look at this case and say even if the facts are so outrageous, could they all be made up and be a lie for a paycheck?
And that's my real frustration here, that this is going to have just negative confluence on all the civil rights cases that we have been trying hard to try and figure out, both in the LGBTQ community and the people of color communities.
This has been devastating to every progress that we have made in the past decade or two.
BALDWIN: Yes. Yes. Yes. And just back to -- hang on a second. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... actor, and singer/songwriter who currently appears as a character on the FOX television show "Empire."
Defendant Smollett currently resides in an apartment in the Chicago Streeterville neighborhood. The people expect the evidence to show that on Tuesday January 22, 2019, defendant Smollett received a written letter at the Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, which is the facility on the southwest side of Chicago where the "Empire" television owe is filmed.
This letter contained written threats directed towards defendant Smollett and contained a then unknown white powdery substance. The letter also contained cutout letters pieced together which stated, "Smollett, Jussie, you will die, black F," and the word MAGA was handwritten on the envelope where the return address typically is located.
This powdery substance has since been determined to be crushed ibuprofen tablets. The letter also contained a drawing of a stick figure which appears to have a rope around the neck and a gun pointed towards it. Law enforcement authorities were contacted and the letter was turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is currently conducting forensic analysis of the letter.
In January of 2019 and at all times relevant hereto, defendant Smollett was close friends with an individual by the name of Abimbola Abel Osundairo, who is 25 years old.
Smollett and Abel initiated their friendship in the fall of 2017. During the course of this friendship, defendant Smollett and Abel socialized together, exercised together as well as worked on the FOX television series "Empire."
Within that working relationship, Abel was a stand-in for a character named Kai, who was a love interest of defendant Smollett's character on the "Empire" TV show.
Additionally, text messages between defendant Smollett and Abel revealed that Abel was a source of designer drugs for defendant Smollett. Specifically, since the spring of 2018 and on several occasions, defendant Smollett requested Abel to provide with molly, which is street name for the narcotic ecstasy.
Text messages generated by defendant Smollett to Abel specifically starting on the morning of January 25, 2019, reveal defendant Smollett asking Abel when he would be leaving on his trip to Nigeria. This trip was scheduled to take place on the evening of January 29 of 2019, and it had been planned by Abel and his brother, Olabinjo Ola Osundairo, who is 27 years old, two months prior.
After Abel confirmed the date and time of his trip, defendant Smollett texted Abel, stating: "Might need your help on the low. You around to meet up to talk face-to-face?"
The two then made arrangements to meet at the Cinespace Studios that afternoon, where defendant Smollett subsequently drove Abel home to Abel's apartment in the Lake View neighborhood.
During the ride, Smollett indicated to Abel his displeasure that the "Empire" studios -- of the "Empire" studio's handling of the racist and homophobic letter he received three days priori. Defendant Smollett then stated that he wanted to stage an attack where Abel would appear to batter him.
Defendant Smollett also suggested that Abel's older brother, Ola, assist him with the attack. Defendant Smollett had met Ola on several previous occasions through Abel. Additionally, Ola had appeared as an extra of the "Empire" TV show. Abel and Ola are both dark-skinned black males born in the United States with Nigerian descent. When defendant Smollett and Abel reached Abel's apartment at approximately 5:00 p.m. on January 25, 2019, Ola, who was then living with Abel, was summoned into defendant Smollett's vehicle.
Once inside, Smollett asked Ola if he could trust him. When Ola said he could, Smollett detailed his plans of the attack to the brothers. Smollett stated that he wanted them to appear to attack him on the evening of January 28, 2019, near his apartment building in Streeterville.
Defendant Smollett also stated he wanted the brothers to catch his attention by calling him an "Empire F," "Empire N." Defendant Smollett further detailed that he wanted Abel to attack him, but not hurt him too badly, and to give him a chance to appear to fight back.
Defendant Smollett indicated he wanted Ola to place a rope around his neck, pour gasoline on him and yell, "This is MAGA country."
Prior to the brothers getting out of Smollett's car, Smollett provided Abel with a $100 bill to purchase the rope, gasoline, ski masks, gloves and the red baseball caps which resemble the ones that say "Make America Great Again."
The ride from Cinespace Studios to the Osundairo brothers' home and the meeting between Smollett and the brothers is corroborated by CPD pod videos and cellular phone tower data of Smollett's phone number.
On the late morning of Sunday January 27, 2019, Smollett drove his vehicle back to the Lake View neighborhood to pick up the brothers and show them the scene where he wanted the staged attack to take place.
Smollett then drove the brothers to the corner of New Street and North Water Street in Chicago, where the staged attack was to take place. This was just outside of Smollett's apartment building.
Further details were provided by Smollett, which included that the staged attack was to take place near the stairs on the southwest corner of New and North Water streets at 10:00 p.m. the following night.
Smollett also instructed the brothers not to bring their cell phones with them. Smollett directed the brothers' attention towards a surveillance camera on the corner, which he believed would capture the incident.
There was a change in the plan, in that bleach was going to be used instead of gasoline during the simulated attack. Smollett then drove the brothers home and provided them with a $3,500 personal check made payable to Abel, which was back-dated to January 23 of 2019.
On the morning of January 28, 2019, the date of the planned attack, the brothers purchased the clothing items at a local beauty supply store and the rope at a nearby hardware store using the $100 bill that Smollett had given them. These purchases were corroborated by surveillance video and a receipt.
Abel also deposited Smollett's check that same day in his own bank account. Later that evening, the plan had changed and the time of the attack had to be pushed back because Smollett's flight into O'Hare Airport from New York had been delayed by four hours.
Smollett's plane eventually landed at O'Hare at 12:30 a.m. on January 29 of 2019. At 12:49 a.m., there is a phone call between Smollett and Abel which lasted three minutes. During this call, Smollett told Abel the attack would take place at exactly 2:00 a.m. at the location.
Minutes later, Ola ordered an Uber ride share to his home to leave for the crime scene. Cell phone records and Uber records confirm this call and the Uber ride.
The brothers then took the Uber to the 1400 block of North Wells, where they exited the Uber and flagged down a taxi, which took them to within three blocks of the arranged scene at approximately 1:22 a.m.
The taxi's in-car video captures the brother flagging -- the brothers flagging the cab and riding in the back seat. From approximately 1:22 a.m. until approximately 2:03 a.m., video evidence showed the brothers on foot in an area bordered by Lake Shore Drive to the east, Columbus Drive to the west, Illinois to the north and the Chicago River to the south.
Video evidence also showed that Smollett returned back to his apartment from the airport at approximately 1:30 a.m. At 1:45 a.m., Smollett left his building to walk to a nearby Subway restaurant at Illinois and McClurg Court.
At 2:00 a.m., the brothers were at the intersection of New Street and North Water street. However, defendant Smollett did not arrive at the preset time. The brothers then proceeded a quarter-block north and waited near a bench until Smollett arrived, which was four minutes later.
Surveillance cameras captured the brothers waiting at this location just prior to the staged attack. During Smollett's interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," which aired on February 14 of 2019, he identified the people shown in the still of that surveillance video as his attackers.
Also during that interview, Smollett indicated he was positive these were his attackers. The two men in this video are in fact the Osundairo brothers.
It was at this time that the brothers staged the attack of defendant Smollett just how Smollett had instructed them. While the staged attack was occurring, a witness who is an employee of NBC News Chicago had just parked and exited her vehicle around the corner from the location of the staged attack.
This witness indicated that she heard nothing at the time of the staged attack, despite the fact that defendant Smollett told CPD detectives that his attackers were yelling racial and homophobic slurs at him and he in turn was yelling back at them.
The staged attack lasted 45 seconds. And it was just outside the view of the desired nearby camera that Smollett had pointed out to the brothers approximately 15 hours earlier. Approximately one minute later, video evidence showed the brothers run from the location southbound towards the Chicago River and westbound towards Columbus Drive.
Video evidence also captures the brothers entering a taxi at the Hyatt Regency Hotel across the river at 2:10 a.m. Video evidence then showed, at 2:25 a.m., the brothers exited the taxi on the 3600 block of North Marshfield Avenue and walked northbound. This was only a few blocks from the brothers' Lake View apartment, which was also the original Uber pickup location to the staged crime scene.
Video shows the brothers walking from where they were dropped off towards their home. Two minutes after the brothers exited the taxi at 2:27 a.m., defendant Smollett's manager called the police to report the incident.
At approximately 2:42 a.m., Chicago police arrived at Smollett's department. Chicago police observed that Smollett had a rope draped around his neck. This was captured on police body-worn camera. Seconds later, Smollett asked the police to shut off their cameras.
Smollett then made a police report where he claimed he was the victim of an attack in which the offenders struck him while yelling racial and homophobic slurs. Smollett also reported that the offenders placed a rope around his neck, poured a liquid chemical on him and told him, "This is MAGA country."
Defendant Smollett also reported for the first time that, three days prior, on January 26, 2019, he received a phone call from an unidentified phone number in which an unidentified male caller stated, "Hey, you little F," before ending the call.
Smollett also told police that the incident happened near a camera which he stated should have captured the attack. This is the same camera that Smollett pointed out to the Osundairo brothers in preparation of the staged attack.
Smollett also told the police that the initial and primary attacker now known to be Abel Osundairo was wearing a ski mask which covered his entire face, with the exception of his how eyes and the area all around his eyes.
As stated earlier, the Osundairo brothers are dark-skinned male blacks. During the "Good Morning America" interview, Smollett stated, "And it feels like, if I had said I was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more, a lot more."
[15:25:03] These statements by Smollett further misled the police and the public to believe his attackers were white. On January 29, 2019, at 7:45 p.m., just less than 18 hours following the reported attack, defendant Smollett placed a phone call to Abel, and the duration of the call was five seconds.
Two minutes later, Abel called back Smollett, and that call lasted one minute, 34 seconds. The brothers then boarded their flight to Nigeria and left the country. On January 30, 2019, at 10:46 a.m., defendant Smollett called Abel, who was in Istanbul, Turkey, and the duration of that call lasted eight minutes and 48 seconds.
For the next two weeks, the Chicago Police Department investigated this matter as a hate crime. The Chicago police were able to identify the Osundairo brothers as the alleged attackers through an extensive investigation using surveillance videos, pod police videos, in-car taxi camera videos, ride share records, credit card records, bank records and a store receipt.
On February 13 of 2019, the brothers returned from Nigeria and landed at the Chicago O'Hare International Airport, and they were detained by U.S. customs. Members of the Chicago Police Department placed them into custody.
That same evening, the Chicago police executed a search warrant upon the Osundairo brothers' residence, where they collected evidence that linked Abel to the "Empire" TV show. The police had already determined that Ola was affiliated with the show.
Following their arrest, and through consultation with their attorneys, the brothers agreed to cooperate in the investigation. As more evidence such as text messages, phone records, social media records, bank records, surveillance video and the receipt from the purchase of the rope was obtained by investigators, this investigation shifted from a hate crime to disorderly conduct.
The Cook County State's Attorney's Office approved charges yesterday at 6:10 p.m. And at 5:00 a.m. this morning, defendant Smollett was placed into custody at the Area Central police headquarters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Is she not taking questions? All right.
Well, you wanted detail? That's some detail. That's this chronology of this fake attack, and that is the result of good old-fashioned police work.
I have got Faith and Mark and Adrienne.
And, Mark, I want to come back to you because, I mean, you heard all the evidence.
BALDWIN: Oh. YOUNG: There they are. There they are.
BALDWIN: Hang on. Oh, here is his family.
YOUNG: Here comes the family.
BALDWIN: Ryan, I hear you.
YOUNG: So right now -- right.
So this is the Smollett family right now. They are all standing here. Obviously, I don't think they expected to have to walk through this gauntlet. I'm not sure if they're going to come to these mics. We're hoping that Smollett's lawyer will come and at least address some of this detail.
That was amazing in terms of the information and detail that we just got. I mean, trying to -- go through the story for the last three weeks or so, yes, we got some details, but nothing like that.
You can see all the extensive work that's been put into this, from detectives to even them interviewing all the witnesses and all the search warrants they performed. I'm sure what's happening right now, there is a conversation going on about whether or not a family member is going to come to the mic and talk or whether or not a lawyer is going to come and talk.
It would be great to have someone step to the mic, especially after all that information, Brooke, that just dropped. I'm sure your mouth probably dropped like mine did in terms of some of the information that we were just told.
BALDWIN: Yes, of course.
And I was sitting here wondering how -- his lawyers, correct me, Ryan, but most recently just still calling all of the claims outrageous. Outrageous.
BALDWIN: And I just sat here wondering -- hang on, let's see. No, that's an about-face.
YOUNG: Let's see. Are you going to walk by? OK.
So what's happened right now is, the lawyers and the family have split. So you have -- you have the attorneys go to one direction and now you have the family go in the other direction.
I'm not sure they're going to be allowed to go out any other door besides the door that this front door is right here.
BALDWIN: Like, they're going to have to walk past you all?
YOUNG: Yes, hopefully.
I mean, it might come down to the point where security here has determined, with the amount of crush of media and people who are kind of just watching, maybe they decide to let them go out another door. I doubt that's going to happen.
We were told there was going to be no special treatment of the family members here. And considering all the cases that we have covered here, everyone has had to walk out this front door at some point or another, no matter how hard it is.
And, of course, we're here to ask the questions. And, of course, we will try. But they do have plenty of security to keep us back to a certain point.