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Jussie Smollett timeline: A look back at the ex-'Empire' star's alleged attack, hoax claims

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  • Jussie Smollett
    Jussie Smollett
    American actor

Jussie Smollett's trial to determine if the ex-"Empire" star was a victim of a hate crime or staged a racist and homophobic attack three years ago in January 2019 began Nov. 29 in Chicago.

Smollett, 39, is charged with felony disorderly conduct for what law enforcement and prosecutors believe was a false police report about the alleged attack. The Class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years in prison, but experts say if Smollett is convicted he likely would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service.

Smollett's attorney Nenye Uche maintains that the actor was a "real victim" of a "real crime" while prosecutors assert that detectives clocked some 3,000 hours on what they thought was a hate crime, but later concluded it was a staged hoax.

As new details emerge in the case, here's a look back of all the key moments since Smollett's alleged Chicago attack.

Jussie Smollett trial: Here's everything that has happened so far

More: Will Jussie Smollett testify in Chicago trial? Legal experts weigh in

Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Courts Building for the start of jury selection in his trial on Nov. 29, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Smollett is accused of lying to police when he reported that two masked men physically and verbally attacked him, yelling racist and anti-gay remarks near his Chicago home in 2019.
Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Courts Building for the start of jury selection in his trial on Nov. 29, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Smollett is accused of lying to police when he reported that two masked men physically and verbally attacked him, yelling racist and anti-gay remarks near his Chicago home in 2019.

January 2019: Smollett files police report alleging assault in Chicago; police question claims

On Jan. 22, Smollett claimed he received a racist and homophobic threatening letter at the Chicago studio where "Empire" was being filmed. Police later said they believed the actor sent the letter himself.

On Jan. 29, Smollett told police he was attacked by two men in downtown Chicago at 2 a.m. and said they used racist and homophobic slurs. He also reported they wrapped a rope around his neck and poured an "unknown substance" on him. Smollett, according to police, told detectives attackers also yelled "This is MAGA country!" before fleeing the scene.

Background: 'Empire' star Jussie Smollett says attackers yelled, 'This is MAGA country' during beating

The following day, Chicago police announced they reviewed hundreds of hours of surveillance camera footage, including of Smollett walking downtown, but none showed the attack. Police then obtained and released images of two "persons of interest" to question.

'Empire' co-star Taraji P. Henson decries Jussie Smollett attack: 'Hate will not win'

February 2019: Police arrest and release two suspects, claim Smollett staged the attack

On Feb. 1, Smollett issued a statement saying he's OK, that he's working with authorities and has been "100 percent factual and consistent on every level." The next day, Smollett opened a concert in West Hollywood, California, with an emotional speech, saying he had to play the show because he couldn't let his attackers win.

On Feb. 13, Chicago police picked up two Nigerian brothers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after police learned at least one worked on "Empire." Police questioned them and searched their apartment, arresting them on suspicion of assault. Two days later, the brothers were released without charges and a police spokesman said they were no longer suspects.

The following week, police said the investigation "shifted" after detectives questioned the brothers, and request a follow-up interview with Smollett. His lawyers said he felt "victimized" by reports that he played a role in the assault.

On Feb. 19, Chicago's top prosecutor, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation. Her office said the decision was made "out of an abundance of caution … to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case."

As February came to a close, prosecutors charged Smollett with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report about the alleged attack. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted publicity. Investigators said they have a $3,500 check that Smollett used to pay the two brothers to help him. Smollett's character was removed from the final two episodes of the "Empire" season.

March 2019: Smollett indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct, lying to police

On March 7, a Cook County grand jury handed up charges for each time the actor "knowingly" told police he was the victim of "battery, a hate crime, and an aggravated battery," amounting to 16 counts. Prosecutors said he knew at the time "there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed."

On March 14, the actor pleaded not guilty. The following week, Smollett's attorneys said charges alleging he lied to police were dropped.

"After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case," read a statement from the office of the Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, sent to USA TODAY in 2019 by her spokeswoman, Tandra Simonton.

On March 28, however, a city official said Chicago was seeking $130,000 from Smollett to cover the cost of the investigation into his reported attack, which police believed was staged.

April 2019: More lawsuits filed in the case

On April 11, the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit seeking to recoup the investigation costs.

Days later, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office released thousands of documents in the Smollett case in response to open records requests, including a text from Foxx calling Smollett a "washed up celeb" who was overcharged.

On April 23, the brothers who said they helped Smollett stage the attack filed a defamation lawsuit against the actor's attorneys.

Attorney Nenye Uche, left, and Jussie Smollett leave a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago, July 14, 2021.
Attorney Nenye Uche, left, and Jussie Smollett leave a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago, July 14, 2021.

August 2019: Judge names special prosecutor to investigate

On Aug. 23, a judge named former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb as special prosecutor to investigate why charges against Smollett were dropped.

February 2020: Smollett pleads not guilty to restored charges

On Feb. 11, Webb said the grand jury returned six-count indictment against Smollett, accusing him of lying to police. On Feb. 24, Smollett pleaded not guilty to restored charges.

More: Jussie Smollett indicted on new charges over alleged Chicago attack; attorney responds

September 2020: Smollett speaks out for first time in over a year

In a rare interview with BET correspondent and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill on Sept. 10, Smollett maintained his innocence and called his legal troubles "frustrating."

Smollett also said in the interview that he believed law enforcement and the media were "trying to sell" an agenda by highlighting only certain aspects of the case to paint the picture of a guilty man.

"When I step back, I can see the way they served the narrative to the people: That it was intentionally created to make people doubt from the very, very beginning. But at the same time, I'm not really living for the people that don't believe," he said.

More: Jussie Smollett maintains innocence in rare interview; judge denies motion to drop case

October 2021: Judge denies case dismissal, sets trial date

On Oct. 15, Judge James Linn allowed one of the newest members of Smollett's team of defense lawyers, Uche, to plead for dismissal again.

Among his most passionate arguments, Uche said Smollett had been offered a non-prosecution deal by previous prosecutors in the Cook County state's attorney's office and that Smollett had kept his side of the bargain, having already performed community service and given up a $10,000 bond under the deal.

However, Linn denied the last-ditch effort to dismiss the criminal case and set a November trial date.

Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Courts Building for the start of jury selection in his trial on Nov. 29, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Smollett is accused of lying to police when he reported that two masked men physically and verbally attacked him, yelling racist and anti-gay remarks near his Chicago home in 2019.
Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Courts Building for the start of jury selection in his trial on Nov. 29, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. Smollett is accused of lying to police when he reported that two masked men physically and verbally attacked him, yelling racist and anti-gay remarks near his Chicago home in 2019.

November 2021: Jussie Smollett's trial begins in Chicago

Smollett's trial began Nov. 29 in Chicago. The actor arrived at the courthouse with his mother, Janet. Brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, will testify as key witnesses during the trial, but it remains unclear whether Smollett will.

So far in the trial, Uche has painted the attack as a legitimate crime and portrayed the brothers as unreliable, saying their story has changed while Smollett’s has not. Uche also said the prosecutors' claim that Smollett paying for a fake attack by check doesn't make sense.

On the other hand, former police detective Michael Theis testified that he initially viewed the actor as a victim of a homophobic and racist attack, but later concluded it was an "actually a staged event." He said Smollett declined to provide his medical records related to the attack or a cheek swab so investigators could compare it to DNA that may have been on a rope Smollett said the attackers put around his neck.

Contributing: Maria Puente, Hannah Yasharoff, Jayme Deerwester and Pamela Avila, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jussie Smollett timeline: Key moments since alleged 2019 attack