CHICAGO (CBS) — The attorney for two brothers involved in the allegedly orchestrated attack against “Empire” star Jussie Smollett in January said her clients feel “betrayed” by the actor and are trying “to pick up the pieces of what this has done to their lives.”
“This entire thing started because they put their trust in the wrong person,” attorney Gloria Schmidt said in an interview on CBSN.
Schmidt represents Ola and Abel Osundairo, who allegedly told Chicago police that Smollett paid them $3,500 by check to stage a hate crime against him in January, because he was upset with his salary on “Empire.”
Smollett was indicted Friday on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to two separate police officers about the incident, which happened on Jan. 29, not far from the actor’s home in Streeterville.
Each count covers various alleged acts that Smollett falsely described to the officers–including that he was hit by two men, that they yelled racial and homophobic slurs and poured a chemical on him.
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. 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 said, in reality, Smollett had paid the Osundairo brothers to stage the attack.
“They feel tremendously regretful for their role in this, and their involvement in the situation,” Schmidt said. “The impact that this has had – not only on them, but on minority populations – that weighs very heavily on them.”
The brothers are hoping to “make something positive” of the situation now, according to Schmidt.
“You know, try to make this something positive for them and have a positive impact on the community,” she said.
Schmidt said the Osundairo brothers were friends with Smollett and worked out with him. At least one of the brothers had appeared as an extra on “Empire,” and Schmidt said they hoped Smollett could help their careers, but they now feel he betrayed them.
“They felt that their friend, someone who had helped them getting some connections, would not put them in a situation where they’re now being labeled as someone who would commit a hate crime,” she said. “I can tell you, with confidence, they did not commit a hate crime. They also did not know that their loyalty to him would be betrayed.”
Schmidt said the Osundairo brothers are not looking for anything from police or prosecutors in exchange for their grand jury testimony against Smollett.
“They fully cooperated with the police. They’re still cooperating with the police. They have not sought out any kind of immunity or any kind of plea deals. That is not on the table. They are not interested in that. They just wanted to come out and cooperate and tell the truth,” she said.
Police investigated Smollett’s allegations for three weeks, and have said it was not until the Osundairo brothers had been in custody for nearly two days that the investigation switched from an alleged hate crime to an alleged hoax.
Schmidt said her clients’ cooperation with police is why police began investigating Smollett for staging the attack.
“Obviously that shift is because of the evidence that came to light, and it was because this was something that was at Mr. Smollett’s direction,” she said.
Schmidt said she does not know if the brothers will testify against Smollett at trial, noting it’s not up to her who prosecutors call as witnesses.
Smollett is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday. He is free on bond.
On Feb. 22, the television show “Empire” said Smollett would be written out of the last two episodes of the season, which still had yet to be filmed. On Friday, 20th Century Fox said the studio and the network had no comment on Smollett’s indictment.
Smollett’s attorney, Mark Geragos, has questioned why the Osundairo brothers were not indicted alongside him.
“I haven’t seen one piece of evidence, and they don’t have one piece of evidence that they’ve turned over that links Jussie to this. What they do have is a whale of a case. If you believe what the police chief is saying, they’ve got a great case against the two brothers,” Geragos said. “What do they have that corroborates this story? These are the two people that did it. What do they have besides their word that says he was in on this?”