Two brothers arrested for an alleged attack on Jussie Smollett recounted for Chicago police how the ex-Empire actor orchestrated the hoax, a lead investigator has testified.
Smollett told the the pair via text message to meet him "on the low", paying for supplies and holding a "dry run" in downtown Chicago, former police detective Michael Theis said from the stand on Tuesday as prosecutors began their case.
Theis said he initially viewed the actor as a victim of a homophobic and racist attack and police "absolutely" did not rush to judgment as Smollett's defence lawyer had alleged.
Theis said roughly two dozen detectives clocked about 3000 hours on what they thought was a "horrible hate crime" in January 2019.
He said they were excited when they were able to track the movements of two suspected attackers using surveillance video as well as mobile phone ride-sharing records.
"The crime was a hate crime, a horrible hate crime," Theis said, noting Smollett - who is black and gay - reported that his attackers put a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him.
Smollett is charged with felony disorderly conduct, which carries a prison sentence of up to three years.
After police arrested Abimbola and Olabingo Osundairo - brothers who also worked on the set of Empire in Chicago - as they returned to the city from Nigeria, the men said Smollett wanted to stage the attack because he was unhappy about how the TV studio handled hate mail the actor had received, Theis said.
He said investigators checked out the brothers' account - including that the actor picked them up days before the attack and drove them around the downtown neighbourhood where he lived and talked about what would happen - and corroborated their version of events.
"At the end of the investigation, we determined that the alleged hate crime was actually a staged event" and the brothers were released, Theis said.
Defence lawyer Nenye Uche said during opening statements that Smollett "is a real victim" and the brothers attacked Smollett because they did not like him "because of who he is".
On Tuesday, Uche suggested the brothers were homophobic, asking Theis about a homophobic word one of the brothers used.
Theis said there was a message containing a slur but he did not know if that made the man homophobic.
The trial continues.
Australian Associated Press