Jury selection in the Chicago murder trial involving the family of movie star and singer Jennifer Hudson began in earnest on Monday, again raising the question of just how much celebrity influences justice.
Perhaps no city is more aware than Los Angeles of how celebrity ramps up the visibility of even routine cases, let alone major judicial proceedings such as murder charges. From O.J. Simpson to Phil Spector to Michael Jackson (and, separately, his doctor); from Lindsay Lohan to Paris Hilton to Mel Gibson, the list seems endless, with new stars seemingly added almost every day.
Now it's the turn of Chicago, no stranger to colorful characters and their trials, including Al Capone and the Chicago Seven.
On Monday, Cook County Judge Charles Burns began what is expected to be two to three days of weeding down the jury pool and sitting a panel that will decide the fate of William Balfour, the estranged husband of Jennifer Hudson’s sister.
Balfour, 30, is accused of killing Hudson’s mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and brother, Jason Hudson, 29, who were found shot to death in the family home. Balfour is also charged with kidnapping and killing Hudson’s nephew, Jason King, 7, whose body was found days later in a sport-utility vehicle several miles away.
Jennifer Hudson was not even in Chicago when the slayings took place but has said she was in almost daily contact with her mother. When she couldn’t reach her, she called authorities, sending them to the home where the bodies were found on Oct. 24, 2008. Hudson is a potential witness in the trial and is expected to be a very visible spectator.
So it's no accident that Hudson’s celebrity is an issue. Nine of the 66 queries answered by the 150 potential jurors focus on Hudson’s accomplishments. Those include her Academy Award-winning performance in the film “Dreamgirls” and even her job as a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers, whose television commercials air frequently.
Last week, Burns told potential jurors that they were being considered for the celebrated case and asked whether anyone believed he or she might have a problem with that. As the number of potential jurors indicating a potential problem grew from five to 15 then 20, Burns dropped the question sure to be at the heart of the jury selection process.
Burns and the attorneys will seat 12 jurors and six alternates. Opening statements are scheduled for April 23.
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