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Testifying at his trial, Jussie Smollett says he did not stage a hoax attack

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

There was no hoax. That was the crux of the testimony from actor Jussie Smollett, which he made yesterday, exactly 1,042 days after he said he was attacked in a hate crime on a Chicago street. Smollett took the stand in his own defense and stuck with his story that strangers approached and jumped him. Let's go now to Megan Crepeau. She's the Cook County Criminal Courts reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and she's been covering the Smollett case since February of 2019.

MEGAN CREPEAU: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

ELLIOTT: So what are your top takeaways from his testimony yesterday?

CREPEAU: Well, Jussie Smollett got up there on the witness stand and said under oath that this was a real attack, that he was not a part of any hoax, that he did not orchestrate any kind of fake hate crime on himself, that he was, in fact, a real victim of a real assault. Now, his version of the story is going to be familiar, I think, to anyone who's paid attention to this over the last couple years. But he took jurors step by step in very fine detail about what he said he heard and felt and experienced on that night out on the street.

Basically, he said he was walking home after getting back into town on a delayed flight. This was the middle of the night on a very cold night in Chicago. He heard someone yell "Empire," the name of his show. Then he heard someone yell racial and homophobic slurs. He saw a big guy in a ski mask come up and punch him. There was a tussle. His attacker or attackers ran away. And then on his way home, he said he felt that there was a rope around his neck tied like a noose. Obviously, that's an extraordinarily disturbing allegation.

ELLIOTT: So you're in the courtroom for this. It is clearly a key moment. How did the jurors seemed to react to what he was saying?

CREPEAU: Well, listen, you know, it's hard to read faces and make too many assumptions about what a juror's thinking, right?

ELLIOTT: Right.

CREPEAU: But I will say everyone is paying very close attention, not just jurors. It's a terrible cliche - right? - but you could hear a pin drop in that courtroom, and he testified for hours on end. He's set to testify further today on cross-examination. And the whole courtroom was paying very close attention. Everyone wants to see if he's going to trip up on cross-examination, to see if he gets emotional, loses composure, ultimately, in the end, to see if he is credible.

ELLIOTT: The prosecution's star witnesses were brothers who testified last week that they were paid by Smollett to stage an attack. Does this whole case hinge on Smollett's word against theirs?

CREPEAU: In the end, I think that's correct. I mean, there is not - there doesn't appear to be a ton of very hard, sort of smoking-gun evidence on either side, right? A lot of the circumstantial evidence that people have brought in, like text messages, surveillance footage, et cetera, et cetera, has a different meaning depending on whether you ask the Smollett or the Osundairo brothers. So I do think this is going to come down to which side jurors think is more credible.

ELLIOTT: Well, thank you for covering this trial for us. We look forward to hearing what's next. That's Megan Crepeau with the Chicago Tribune. Thank you.

CREPEAU: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLYING LOTUS'S "ANDROMEDA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.