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Jennifer Hudson takes stand at murder trial of ex-brother-in-law

April 23, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • In this courtroom sketch, singer and actress Jennifer Hudson testifies in Chicago at the murder trial of William Balfour, charged in the October 2008 killings of her mother, brother and nephew. Looking on is Cook County Judge Charles Burns.
In this courtroom sketch, singer and actress Jennifer Hudson testifies… (Tom Gianni / Associated…)

Jennifer Hudson, whose voice and upbeat persona paved her way to fame on television, in the movies and even as a spokeswoman fighting excess weight, reportedly broke down in tears Monday as she took the stand in the trial of a man accused of killing three of her relatives.

Dressed in black with hair pulled demurely back, Hudson, who has won a Grammy for her singing, spoke so softly that Judge Charles Burns at one point gently asked her to speak up, according to media accounts. Asked to identify the defendant, Hudson’s words mixed with tears.

“He’s sitting right there,” she said, pointing at William Balfour, 30, charged with killing Hudson’s mother, Darnell Donerson, 57; brother, Jason, 29; and nephew Julian King, 7, in 2008.

Hudson was the first prosecution witness in the case, taking the stand after lawyers gave their opening remarks, according to the Chicago Tribune blog of the court action.

Various news reports painted a picture of Hudson, an Academy Award-winning actress, fighting a battle to keep her emotions from overwhelming her during more than a half-hour on the stand. She described her close relations with her family, which had reservations about Balfour, Hudson said. Balfour had been married to Hudson’s sister Julia.

“None of us wanted her to marry him,” she said, her voice cracking. “We did not like how he treated her.”

She began to cry as she spoke of her relatives, especially Julian.

“It was always me and my Tugga Bear. That's what I called him,” she said of the boy, whose body was found with a bullet in his head.

After her testimony, Hudson, clutching tissues, walked slowly directly in front of the jury as she crossed the courtroom. She then took a seat in the fourth row next to her fiance, David Otunga, a former reality show participant; Hudson’s big break was as a finalist on “American Idol,” the televised singing contest.

The prosecution argues that Balfour was jealous about possibly losing Julia Hudson.

At one point he told her, “if you ever leave me, I'm going to kill you, but I'm going to kill your family first,”  said prosecutor James McKay on Monday, according to the Associated Press. Prosecutors say Balfour became enraged by balloons he saw at the Hudson home that he thought were from Julia Hudson's new boyfriend.

Prosecutors contend that Balfour went to the three-story house about 9 a.m. Oct. 24, 2008, and used a .45-caliber handgun to kill Hudson's mother. They say he then shot Jason Hudson twice in the head before driving off in the family SUV with Julia Hudson's son, Julian. The boy’s body was found in the vehicle three days later.

Defense attorney Amy Thompson told the jury that police charged Balfour because they felt pressured to make an arrest. “As soon as that [the fact that a celebrity was linked to the case] became known, they knew coverage would explode,” Thompson said. “The police were on the hook. They had to find their man and find him fast.”

The defense maintains that the physical evidence is circumstantial. There are no known witnesses to the slayings.

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

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