At Jussie Smollett trial Osundairo brothers at center stage

At Jussie Smollett trial, Osundairo brothers at center stage. Two brothers stand at the center of the case that prosecutors will lay before jurors when the trial of actor Jussie Smollett begins this week, with jury selection starting Monday.

The former “Empire” star contends that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault in downtown Chicago on a frigid night in January 2019. But two brothers who worked with him on the TV show say he paid them $3,500 to pose as his attackers.–176701415/–176701415/–176701415/–176701415/–176701415/–176701415/

Smollett is accused of lying to police about the alleged attack and has been charged with felony disorderly conduct. Although, as a Class 4 felony, the crime carries a sentence of up to three years in prison, experts have said it is more likely that, if Smollett is convicted, he would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service.

Whether Smollett, who is Black and an out gay man, will testify remains an open question. But the brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, will take the stand, where they are expected to repeat what they have told police officers and prosecutors: that they carried out the attack at Smollett’s behest.

Jurors also may see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras that police reviewed to trace the brothers’ movements before and after the reported attack, as well as a video showing the brothers purchasing a red hat, ski masks and gloves from a beauty-supply shop hours earlier.

Smollett’s attorneys have not spelled out how they will confront that evidence, and the lead attorney, Nenye Uche, declined to comment. But there are clues to their expected approach. The trial, in a Chicago courtroom, is expected to last a week.

Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department reports is a statement from a woman who lived in the area who says she saw a white man with “reddish brown hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night.

She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope.”

Her comments could back up Smollett’s contention that his attackers draped a makeshift noose around his neck. Furthermore, if she testified that the man was white, it would support Smollett’s statements — widely ridiculed because the brothers, who come from Nigeria, are Black — that he saw pale or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked attackers.

One of Smollett’s defense attorneys, Tina Glandian, suggested during a March 2019 appearance on NBC’s “Today” show that one of the Osundairo brothers could have used white makeup around his eyes to make Smollett believe he was white. To address any juror skepticism, Glandian could ask the brothers about a video she mentioned on the program that she said shows one of the siblings in whiteface reciting a monologue by the Joker character from a movie.

Given the plentiful evidence, including the brothers’ own statements, that they participated in the attack, it is not likely that Smollett’s attorneys will try to prove the Osundairos did not take part. That means the defense could contend that Smollett was the victim of a very real attack by the brothers, who are now implicating him so that prosecutors won’t go after them, too.

The $3,500 check could be key. While the brothers say that was their fee to carry out the fake attack, Smollett has offered a different and much more innocent explanation: that he wrote the check to pay one of them to work as his personal trainer.

“I would assume the defense is going to zero in on that,” said Joe Lopez, a prominent defense attorney not involved with the case. “If they texted messages regarding training sessions, checks he [Smollett] wrote them for training, photographs, the defense would use all of that.”

What the defense will almost certainly do is attack the brothers’ credibility — an effort that will undoubtedly include a reminder to the jury that the brothers are not facing the same criminal charges as Smollett, despite admitting to taking part in the staged attack.

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“Everything Smollett is responsible for, they are responsible for,” said David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who teaches at Chicago Kent College of Law and who is not involved in the case. “They participated and they walk away? What the hell is that?”

Erickson said he expects prosecutors to confront that issue before Smollett’s attorneys do, so that they don’t appear to be trying to hide anything.

Finally, Smollett’s career could come under scrutiny. On one side, prosecutors could make the same point that then-Police Supt. Eddie Johnson made when he announced Smollett’s arrest in 2019: that Smollett thought the attack would gain him more fame and get him a raise on a hit TV show.

But Lopez said the defense attorneys might ask the jury the same question he has asked himself.

Federal health regulators say an experimental COVID-19 pill developed by Merck is effective against the coronavirus, but they will seek input from independent advisors on risks of birth defects and other potential problems during pregnancy.

The Food and Drug Administration posted its analysis of the pill last week ahead of a public meeting Tuesday, when a panel of experts will weigh in on its safety and effectiveness. The agency isn’t required to follow the panel’s advice.

The FDA scientists said their review identified several potential risks, including possible toxicity to developing fetuses and birth defects that were identified in studies of the pill conducted in animals.

Given those risks, the FDA will ask its advisors whether the drug should never be given during pregnancy or whether it could be made available in certain cases.

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Under that scenario, the FDA said the drug would carry warnings about risks during pregnancy, but doctors would still have the option to prescribe it in certain cases where its benefits could outweigh its risks for patients.

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