Hudson murder trial goes to jury

2012-05-10 10:09

Chicago - The fate of the man accused of killing Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother and young nephew was handed to a jury on Wednesday after prosecutors said a "tsunami" of evidence pointed to his guilt.

William Balfour, the estranged husband of Hudson's sister, is accused of slaughtering his in-laws in October 2008 and then hiding his seven-year-old stepson's body to try to cover his crimes.

It was three days before the boy's desperate mother and aunt learned that he was also dead and not just held captive somewhere.

Grisly crime scene photos

"This defendant was fueled by his obsession, his jealousy," assistant state's attorney Jennifer Bagby told jurors.

"He told her again and again: If you leave me, I'll kill you. I'll kill your family first. You'll be the last to die."

Hudson and her sister Julia broke down into silent tears after prosecutors showed the grisly crime scene photos.

Their mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, dead on the floor in her nightgown. Their brother, Jason Hudson, 29, dead in bed wearing nothing but green underwear.

Little Julian King's lifeless arm stretched out on the back seat of his uncle's stolen sport utility vehicle, his crumpled body on the floor.

The murders in Chicago's South Side upended Hudson's life less than two years after the one-time American Idol contestant collected a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in Dreamgirls.

The two week long trial opened a window onto the troubled Englewood neighborhood where Hudson was raised and which her family never left.

Many of the witnesses had criminal records and several testified about how Hudson's brother was a small-time drug dealer.

Defense attorney Amy Thompson insisted that police failed to look into Jason Hudson's drug connections, and instead decided Balfour was the only suspect.

Gun powder residue

"They decided right away who did this and they decided to build a case rather than investigate a crime," she said in closing arguments.

Thompson accused police of planting crucial evidence - like the keys to the Jason Hudson's stolen vehicle found on Balfour when he was arrested - and tore apart the credibility of witnesses.

"My client is an innocent man," an impassioned Thompson told jurors.

"You tell them all to do the right thing - to find the people who actually committed this crime and let William Balfour go free."

Prosecutor James McKay excoriated Thompson's conspiracy theory, telling jurors that if police wanted to frame Balfour they would have done a better job and put some of his DNA on the gun or in the stolen SUV.

He insisted that a "tsunami" of evidence pointed to Balfour's guilt.

There was gun powder residue on his steering wheel and clothing. Cellphone records and witnesses showed him to be nearby. A witness who saw Balfour driving a white SUV up to his girlfriend's house. And the girlfriend who testified that Balfour confessed to the murders.

There were also six witnesses who testified that they'd seen him with the murder weapon - a handgun belonging to Jason Hudson that had gone missing a couple months earlier.

False alibi

Perhaps the most damning fact was that Balfour did nothing to help search for the missing Julian or comfort his estranged wife, McKay said.

Instead, Balfour hid at a girlfriend's house and made phone calls to frantically try to build a false alibi before he was tracked down by police.

"This crime wasn't motivated by money or drugs - this was personal," McKay said.

A vindictive drug dealer wanting to send a message would have killed Julian in the house, not driven his body away and hidden the stolen vehicle, McKay said.

"The only message you send by doing that is not to Jason, it's to that child's mother," he said before urging jurors to find Balfour guilty and "give justice to Darnell and to Jason and to Julian."

Hudson, who released her second studio album I Remember Me in March 2011, and sang I Will Always Love You in memory of the late Whitney Houston at this year's Grammy awards, has attended the entire trial.

She was accompanied to court by her longtime partner, professional wrestler David Otunga.