A judge granted lawyers for embattled former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett more time to prepare legal arguments, including whether a key witness’s previous battery conviction can be introduced at trial.
On Monday, Cook County Judge James Linn scheduled the next hearing in the case for Aug. 26.
But Linn also urged lawyers for Smollett and the special prosecutor’s office to prepare themselves for a trial or other resolution to the charges that the actor is facing. In January of 2019, Smollett, who is gay, claimed that he was the target of a racist and homophobic attack. He said they made racist and homophobic insults, beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing, and that at least one of his attackers was a White man who told him he was in “MAGA country,” a reference to former President Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
However, brothers Abinbola and Olabinjo Osudairo came forward soon after the purported incident and told police that the actor had paid them $3,500 to jump him on a Chicago street in an effort to raise his profile because he was unhappy with his role on “Empire.”
Jussie Smollett’s lawyers were granted more time to prepare legal arguments. (AP Photo/Matt Marton File)
Smollett has been charged with felony counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing false police reports about what happened. He continues to maintain his innocence on the matter and pleaded not guilty.
One of Smollett’s attorneys said after his latest hearing that the legal team has evidence to prove Smollett is innocent of the charges that he lied to police about an attack prosecutors allege he staged himself, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“Like many people in Chicago, when I first heard of the Smollett case … I was absolutely certain that he was guilty based on the media coverage,” attorney Nenye Uche told reporters. “But I can say now categorically, looking at the evidence, hundreds of pages so far, and there are many, many more to look at, so far it’s obvious to us he’s absolutely innocent.”
Uche and the other attorneys would not elaborate on the evidence, saying that it would be disclosed in court.
Jussie Smollett maintained his innocence ahead of the latest hearing on his court case in Chicago. (AP)
Uche was at the center of a legal dispute that slowed progress in the case, as Special Prosecutor Dan Webb argued that Uche had a conflict of interest because he had spoken to the two men who Smollett allegedly hired to help him carry out the attack.
But on Friday, Linn ordered that Uche could remain on the case but prohibited him from questioning the two brothers, Abinbola and Olabinjo Osudairo, should the case go to trial.
Uche told the judge on Monday that he needed more time to prepare arguments on several pre-trial motions, including the defense’s hope to introduce evidence about the older brother’s prior conviction.
Smollett attended Monday’s virtual hearing and told the judge he was in New York City.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.