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Jury selection begins today in Jussie Smollett criminal trial

Actor Jussie Smollett, center, arriving at Leighton Criminal Court in Chicago in July. at the  Building on July 14, 2021, in Chicago.
Stacey Wescott
Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Actor Jussie Smollett, center, arriving at Leighton Criminal Court in Chicago in July. at the Building on July 14, 2021, in Chicago.

The long and winding criminal case against former Empire actor Jussie Smollett began Monday in Chicago with jury selection. Smollett is accused of lying to Chicago police about being the purported victim of an attack in Jan. 2019.

At the time, Smollett said that two men yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him, kicked him, poured bleach on him, put a noose around his neck, and told him, "This is MAGA country." His account of the alleged incident drew the support of a number of politicians and celebrities, including then-Sen. Kamala Harris and Empire co-creator Lee Daniel.

Within days, however, police suspected that Smollett was not being truthful; within weeks, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a press conference that the actor "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career."

Two brothers who knew Smollett, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, told investigators that the actor had recruited them to stage an attack. The Cook County state attorney, Kim Foxx, launched criminal charges against Smollett, but abruptly dropped the case about a month later.

After public criticism of that decision, a Cook County judge ordered a special prosecutor, Dan Webb, to investigate both the alleged crime and the dropped Cook County case. In Feb. 2020, Webb unveiled a new grand-jury indictment against Smollett, including six charges of felony disorderly conduct, for which the actor is now standing trial.

In Aug. 2020, Webb released his findings about Foxx's handling of the initial case, in which he said there were "substantial abuses of discretion and operational failures," but no cause for criminal charges against Foxx's office.

Member Station WBEZ has created a timeline that unspools the many, often confusing twists and turns in this case.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.