Right away, and with absolute clarity, I knew that Jussie Smollett invented the story of his assault.
Now, after not speaking out in public for a few weeks, the actor, who is both black and openly gay, is back in the news—and in a heap of trouble.
Once a sympathetic victim, Smollett has been charged with multiple felony counts for making up the horrifying story about two men who attacked him in the dead of night.
Unknown thugs, he said, beat him and poured an unknown chemical on him, and also fastened a rope around his neck,
as if to fashion a noose. In the midst of this, he added, they shouted racist and homophobic slurs.
I recognized the tale as utterly false because of the job I used to do: producing true crime stories, mostly for
Over the course of nearly two decades, I researched dozens of stories. A good part of the work was interviewing the same number of attorneys and FBI agents; I also spoke with witnesses and family members of victims and small-town newspaper reporters (the latter group often provided the most heartbreaking stories, and could recite them in detail). From all of them, I learned that hard, physical evidence is the key to proving a case beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Along the way, I also acquired a healthy dose of skepticism.
Others who called out the Smollett story early on probably didn’t have my experience. But they had this: the common sense to put the pieces of the narrative together, and to then see that it smelled, and smelled bigly, in spite of the early, sensitive reporting on the assault.
For those who don’t know the story, here’s the rundown.
In late January, Smollett, who is 36 years old, reported to Chicago police that he had been attacked at two in the morning after going out for a sandwich. (Empire, the TV show co-starring Smollett, is filmed in Chicago). The next
day, his family issued a statement of support; less than a week later, the performer gave a concert in West Hollywood, where many members of the LGBTIA community live and work.
In an emotional speech, Smollett told the audience that he had to play the show because he couldn’t let his
By now, a dozen detectives had been assigned to the case—but there were already holes.
A photo of Smollett hours after the attack showed only a scratch under his right eye. The actor refused Chicago PD’s request to see all of his phone records, citing privacy concerns. And, it was puzzling that despite numerous cameras operating in the neighborhood when and where the attack occurred, not one showed any sign of an assault.
The big break came two weeks later.
Two Nigerian brothers were picked up and questioned. Their Chicago apartment was also searched. One was an extra on Empire, and Smollett’s personal trainer. Arrested on suspicion of assaulting Smollett, they were held for nearly 48 hours before being released with all charges dropped.
The story they told was a very different one than the actor’s.
Faced with multiple hate crime charges—which can bring life in prison or even the death penalty—the siblings gave it all up.
They told investigators that Smollett had paid them $3,500 each, by check, to stage the deed. Weeks earlier, the actor had also given them money to write and mail an anonymous death threat letter addressed to him. But when that didn’t garner the publicity or the fatter paycheck that Smollett had hoped it would, he came up with the attack idea. To that end, Smollett even had the two men rehearse the assault. The scratch, they added, was self-inflicted.
Yet despite the brothers’ narrative; the physical evidence, and the 16 felony charges, Smollett is sticking to his story.
In fact, often breaking down in tears, he did so to a national TV audience, and to the entire cast and crew of Empire (shortly afterwards, Smollett was fired from the show).
One can argue that our justice system presumes that one is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
When I put everything together, I can only conclude that Smollett is not only blameworthy, he’s a pretty sick puppy.
That’s because besides lying for his own gain, the performer also diverted resources away from other criminal investigations, and, too, took blatant advantage of the pain of racism tearing so much of this country apart. One more thing: Smollett is a terrific actor—he can cry on cue—but he’s also not the brightest bulb in the room. After all, who writes a check to those you have hired to attack you?
As of this writing, one of Smollett’s attorneys is saying that the charges are redundant and vindictive.
Maybe that’s true. But if the charges stick, someone who might want to stage a similar hate crime is sure to
By then, I hope that Smollett is in prison, and doing a lot of thinking, too.
What is your opinion of Jussie Smollett?