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Prosecutors call 1st witnesses in trial of 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett

Prosecutors call 1st witnesses in trial of 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett
Actor Jussie Smollett arrives at court in Chicago, Ill., on Monday with family and attorneys for the first day of his trial for supposedly staging an attack on himself in 2019. Photo by Tannen Maury/EPA-EFE

Nov. 30 (UPI) -- Prosecutors on Tuesday called a Chicago police officer as their first witness in the trial of former Empire star Jussie Smollett, who's being tried for allegedly setting himself up as the victim of a phony hate crime nearly three years ago.

Prosecutors called Chicago Police Det. Michael Theis to the stand Tuesday on the second day of Smollett's trial.

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Smollett, 39, who is openly gay, told police he was attacked on Jan. 29, 2019, by men who used racial and homophobic slurs in the Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago. At one point, Smollett said, they struck him, poured bleach on him, put a noose around his neck, and said "This is MAGA country."

Theis said on Tuesday that police devoted more than 3,000 hours and roughly two dozen officers and detectives to the case. He added that police went through phone records, social media and surveillance video to try and solve the case.

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"At the end of the investigation, we determined that the alleged hate crime was a staged event and it never happened," Theis said, according to WMAQ-TV.

"Everyone wanted to know what happened. From the mayor on down, everyone wanted answers."

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Smollett was originally charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct related to filing a false police report, but Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx dropped those charges in March 2019, citing his "volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the city of Chicago."

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In February 2020, Smollett was again indicted on six counts of disorderly conduct for making false reports to police. The new charges came after a six-month investigation by special prosecutor Dan Webb.

Smollett has pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted, he could face as many as three years in prison.

"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," brother Jojo Smollett said, according to WMAQ-TV.

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"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."

Webb told jurors during opening statements on Monday that Smollett recruited two other men who worked with him on Empire to help him set up the assault. He said Smollett thought it would persuade the television studio to take hate mail he'd received more seriously.

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