Watch CBS News

Jussie Smollett Trial: Lead Detective In Investigation Explains On Witness Stand How Smollett Went From Victim To Suspect

by Mugo Odigwe and Charlie De Mar

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The lead Chicago Police detective in the Jussie Smollett testified at Smollett's trial Tuesday, explaining how his investigation took a surprising turn.

Smollett is accused of lying to Chicago police when he claimed he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack. He faces six felony counts of disorderly conduct, each carrying a sentence of up to three years if he's convicted.

Smollett, who is Black and openly gay, had told police he was attacked as he was walking home around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2019. He claimed two masked men – one of them also wearing a red hat – shouted racist and homophobic slurs as they beat him, put a noose around his neck, and poured a chemical on him.

Police later said Smollett actually paid two brothers $3,500 to stage the attack.

During opening statements on Monday, Smollett's defense attorney insisted he really was the victim of an attack perpetrated by brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, and claimed police made a "rush to judgment" in accusing Smollett of orchestrating a hoax.

But Chicago Police Detective Michael Theis, a lead investigator in the case who was the first person called to the witness stand in Smollett's trial, disputed there was any rush to judgment in the case.

Detective Theis
(Artist: Cheryl Cook)

Theis walked the jury through exactly how Smollett went from victim to suspect. He said 24 to 26 officers were dedicated to solving the crime Smollett reported, working at it for more than 3,000 hours combined, and reviewing at least 1,500 hours of surveillance video.

"This was horrible. The crime was a hate crime. There was a noose. There was bleach," Detective Theis testified. "The mayor on down - everybody wanted answers. They wanted to know what happened."

Police were looking for two men seen in a grainy video as the possible suspects, but detectives did not know who those men were. Then came a major break in the case. Brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo were identified from a rideshare video they took the night of the attack.

Smollett went on national TV and said he was positive the men in the surveillance video were his attackers. Detectives thought they had solved the case.

Once in custody, the brothers told investigators it was all a hoax. Police then spent days trying to determine if the brothers' story added up.

"At the end of the investigation, we determined the alleged hate crime was actually a staged event - and the hate crime did not occur," Theis said.

From the rope the brothers purchased at the Crafty Beaver - a hardware store near their family home - to the red hats and ski masks purchased with A $100 bill that Smollett allegedly gave them to buy the supplies, to video of Smollett's car supposedly doing a dry run of the attack, detective Theis said the evidence showed that Smollett orchestrated the attack.

Meanwhile, for the first time in the case, it was revealed that Smollett allegedly texted one of the Osundairo brothers while in custody: "Brother…I love you. I stand with you. I know 100% you and your brother did nothing wrong and never would. I am making this statement so everyone else knows they will not get away with this."

Detective Theis was asked by prosecutors, "To this day, has [Smollett] ever come clean about this hate crime that you are aware of?"

Theis said no.

The detective also described Smollett as uncooperative during the investigation, saying he would not hand over his phone and would not provide a cheek swab for DNA to see if his attackers' DNA was on the rope placed around his neck.

During cross-examination, the defense showed a clip of the interrogation with the Osundairo brothers in which the detective asked something along the lines of, "Which one of you beat up Jussie's pretty face?" The defense asked if that was an appropriate question.

Special Prosecutor Dan Webb objected. Cook County Judge James Linn sustained the objection and asked where the defense was going with that line of questioning. He said, "So what?" in reference to the detective's questions in the interrogation.

The defense attorney and team Smollett were visibly upset. The judge spoke with attorneys privately afterward.

After Theis wrapped his testimony and a dinner break was called, Chicago Police Officer Muhammad Baig took the stand. He responded to the initial call in the Smollett case.

When Webb asked Baig if Smollett kept on the noose he said his attackers used because he wanted officers to see it, Baig that was correct. The actor, again, claimed his attackers — who he didn't know - placed it on him and doused him with bleach.

Body cam video shows Baig entering and Smollett with the rope around his neck.

"The reality hits you hard when you actually see it in front of you — seeing a noose around a Black man's neck," Baig said on the stand. "It's not something that should be seen in our day and age."

Smollett asked Baig to turn his camera off, and the officer agreed. He said that is standard policy when dealing with victims.

Prosecutors made it clear that Smollett was not treated like a suspect at the start.

The defense had no questions for Baig.

Afterward, the prosecution called CPD Sgt. Joseph Considine, who was called to the scene of Smollett's apartment by patrol officers who figured a supervising sergeant should be there given the nature of the crime.

The jury saw Considine's body cam footage from Jan. 29, 2019, in which Smollett mentioned that there were cameras in area where reported attack occurred.

Also Tuesday, the jury saw video evidence showing the movements of both Smollett and the Osundairo brothers. The video shows them not just on the night of the alleged attack, but in the days leading up to it.

The jury wrapped for the night in the mid-evening.

Smollett's family is standing behind him. His brother, Jojo Smollett, gave a brief statement as the family entered the courthouse on Tuesday.

"I just want to express that it has been incredibly painful, as his family, to watch someone you love be accused of something they did not do," he said. "We're confident in his legal team and we look forward to people hearing the actual facts in this case. We love him. We're here to support him, all of us, and to lift him up."

Judge Linn has told jurors to be prepared to be in court as late as 7 p.m. each day of the trial, and he expects the trial to wrap up by the end of the week, or early next week at the latest.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.