Apr 24, 2012


(FOX Chicago News) -- Chicago - Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson broke down in tears Monday while testifying at the trial of the man accused of killing her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew in a jealous rage four years ago.

Hudson was the first witness called after prosecutors and attorneys for William Balfour finished their opening statements. During her brief but emotional testimony, she told jurors her family didn't want her sister to marry Balfour and she spoke about the last time she saw her family members.

The singer and actress, who wore a subdued black dress and whose hair was wrapped in a bun, at first seemed composed as a prosecutor began asking her questions. But the testimony became increasingly difficult, and she began crying when talking about seeing her family the Sunday before the killings and later when a prosecutor showed her a picture of her mother.

Her voice also broke as she described her reaction when her sister, Julia Hudson, told her she was going to marry Balfour.

"None of us wanted her to marry him," she said, her voice cracking and struggling to hold back tears. "We did not like how he treated her," she said.

Balfour has pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree murder in the October 2008 slayings.

Early on during Hudson's testimony, a prosecutor asked her to identify the defendant. Hudson poked her head around the judge's bench and pointed at Balfour.

"He's sitting right there," she said.

Balfour looked back at Hudson. But he otherwise showed little emotion during her testimony and during opening statements.

After more than 30 minutes on the stand, Hudson grabbed a fistful of tissues and walked slowly across the courtroom directly in front of jurors. She then took a seat next to her fiance, David Otunga, best known for his stint on VH1's reality show "I Love New York."

A former federal prosecutor said prosecutors were shrewd to call Jennifer Hudson as their first witness.

"It rivets the jury," said Phil Turner, a Chicago attorney. "For better or worse it increases the importance of the case in jurors' minds."

Turner noted Hudson now can sit through the rest of the trial, in full view of the jury. Witnesses typically are not allowed to watch trials until they have testified.

Sitting just a few feet away: William Balfour's family, including his mother, who decline to comment as she entered and left the building.

Balfour's defense attorney Amy Thompson claimed in her opening statement that because of Hudson's celebrity, police focused only on their first potential suspect, William Balfour. "They were on the hook," Thompson told the jury, "they had to find their man and find him quickly."

Thompson said police failed to investigate associates of Hudson's brother, Jason Hudson, who was murdered. "Jason Hudson was a drug dealer. That was his sole occupation," she said.

But Julia Hudson, testifying after her sister's emotional appearance, described why Balfour had to be the killer. As she tried to break up with him and discussed divorce, she said he threatened her on twenty five occasions, saying "If you leave me, I'll kill you. I'll kill your family first, then I will kill you. You’ll be the last to die."

Prosecutors say Balfour went inside the three-story house around 9 a.m. and used a .45-caliber handgun to kill Hudson's mother, 57-year-old Darnell Donerson, in the living room, and then shot her 29-year-old brother, Jason Hudson, twice in the head as he lay in bed.

He allegedly drove off in Jason Hudson's SUV with Julian inside. Authorities say he shot the boy in the head as he lay behind a front seat. His body was found in the abandoned vehicle miles away after a three-day search.

There are no known witnesses to the slayings, and it's unclear what physical evidence exists, including fingerprints or DNA. Prosecutors say gunshot residue was found on the steering wheel of Balfour's car. But the defense says it and other evidence is circumstantial.

During her opening statement, Thompson said DNA found on the gun and fingerprints found in the SUV didn't match Balfour's.

If convicted of at least two of the murder counts, the 30-year-old Balfour, on parole at the time of the killings after serving nearly seven years for attempted murder and vehicular hijacking, would face a mandatory life sentence. The trial could last up to a month.

Jennifer Hudson, the 2004 "American Idol" finalist and 2007 Oscar winner for her role in "Dreamgirls," is expected to attend each day of testimony. Judge Charles Burns has instructed jurors to set aside any sympathy for Hudson and decide a verdict strictly according to testimony.

Attorney Karen Conti joined Good Day Chicago to talk about what is expected to happen in court Monday, how prosecutors need to be careful with Hudson’s testimony should she be called to the stand, how important opening statements are.

Judge Burns has also taken steps to keep order both inside and outside his courtroom. Only one seat has been assigned for each media organization, space has been allotted in the lobby and spots for each live truck have been reserved on California Ave.



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