The fat brown file reads: “People of the State of Illinois v. William Balfour.”
Only, since day one, it’s been the “Jennifer Hudson case” because the three bodies pierced by gunshots were Hudson’s family members.
Jennifer Hudson – the Englewood churchgoing girl who virtually catapulted to fame after securing the highest acting accolade elusive to more seasoned entertainers – lost her mother, brother and young nephew in October 2008.
And while her celebrity has bumped the case from a local triple murder to an international media event, the most compelling testimony in the trial that starts Monday is expected from Julia Hudson, 34, Jennifer Hudson’s eldest sister and Balfour’s ex-wife.
The couple married on Dec. 20, 2006, in Chicago, not long after he was released from prison. They had known each other in high school. For a time, Balfour, 30, worked as a baker, his mother said, and lived in the family’s home in the 7000 block of South Yale Avenue.
Then the couple separated and grew estranged. Balfour moved out in May 2008, and grappled, allegedly, with his wife’s decision to see another man.
Balfour, known to friends as “Flex,” had threatened to kill Julia Hudson’s family over two dozen times in the days leading up to the murders, Cook County prosecutors have said, but she didn’t think he would ever follow through with his deadly plans.
The single mother eventually told Balfour she planned to get intimate with her new paramour on her birthday, Oct. 23, 2008, prosecutors have said.
The Hudson sisters’ mother and brother’s bodies were found the next day.
Darnell Donerson, 57, was shot once in the torso. The Hudson matriarch also had several defense wounds and was still gripping broom bristles, authorities said, when a teenage neighbor was summoned into the home for a well-being check.
Jason Hudson, 29, was shot twice in the head. He was still in bed.
Julia Hudson’s son, 7-year-old Julian King, was missing. The child’s body was discovered three days later on the West Side in the backseat of Jason Hudson’s stolen SUV. The boy, who was wearing basketball shorts and a T-shirt, suffered a gunshot wound to his head.
Jennifer Hudson flew to Chicago from Florida to identify the bodies at the Cook County medical examiner’s office. If she’s called as a witness, she likely will testify about the life and death of the victims.
Julia Hudson is expected to testify about how she let Balfour into her family’s home to use the washroom hours before her two adult family members were killed. While the family slept, Balfour allegedly grew enraged when he spotted several balloons he presumed were from Julia Hudson’s beau. An argument ensued, but Julia Hudson let Balfour out of her home as she left for her job as a school bus driver, prosecutors said.
As she drove away, Julia Hudson eyed Balfour loitering around the home from her rear view mirror, prosecutors have said.
In addition to the triple murders, Balfour is also charged with home invasion, aggravated kidnapping, residential burglary and possession of a stolen motor vehicle.
Jurors will not learn before the trial that he was on parole at the time of the shootings. He was convicted in 1999 of attempted murder, vehicular hijacking and receiving stolen property, state records show. He spent nearly seven years in prison.
Balfour’s mother, Michele Davis Balfour, a steady presence at his court hearings, has denied his involvement.
“My son had nothing to do with this,” she told the Sun-Times in 2008.
She has said she believes prosecutors made a deal with Balfour’s girlfriend to drop a pending drug case against the young woman in exchange for her testimony that she saw Balfour with the murder weapon.
”All I have to say to …the city of Chicago is that I’m going to be driving a Bentley,” she said. “The city of Chicago is going to pay me for arresting my son.”
Balfour’s defense team has kept mum about any case they plan to put on. Veteran Assistant Public Defender Amy Thompson has filed pre-trial motions to have his arrest thrown out, but has not hinted at any particular strategy, whether mistaken identity or insanity or self-defense.
Ultimately, the burden of proof rests with prosecutors who must convince the 12 jurors and six alternates beyond a reasonable doubt that the gun used in the murders was fired by Balfour.