Jury resumes deliberations today in Jennifer Hudson family murders

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Relatives and friends of Jennifer Hudson’s family exit for a lunch break during the Hudson family murder trial at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse Tuesday, May 8, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Jurors spent nearly five hours Wednesday trying to decide if William Balfour killed Jennifer Hudson’s family before the judge in the case told them to stop for the night and come back Thursday morning.

But he didn’t send them home.

After a full day of closing arguments and deliberations, Cook County Judge Charles Burns told the 12 jurors at 9:30 p.m. they’d be spending the night sequestered together. He didn’t say where.

The late night drama played out after the prosecution and defense outlined their cases one last time for jurors. And prosecutors for the first time alleged Balfour had help, suggesting someone else drove Balfour’s green Chrysler away from the murder scene while he escaped in victim Jason Hudson’s white SUV.

Prosecutors, however, presented no direct evidence that he had an accomplice in the crime during more than two weeks of testimony, and offered no new details to back up the claim Wednesday.

Balfour’s attorney ridiculed the claim, referring to the prosecution’s “mysterious fictional character.”

During the closings, Balfour, who courted several women while he was still married to Hudson’s sister, Julia, was painted as a “dog” by his own attorney and a “coward” by prosecutors.

Balfour, fueled by obsession and jealousy over his estranged wife’s new boyfriend, executed the Hudsons’ mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, brother Jason Hudson, 29, and Julia Hudson’s 7-year-old son Julian King, assistant state’s attorney Jennifer Bagby said.

“Every time she mentioned to him that the marriage was over, it didn’t matter that he had women scattered all over the city of Chicago,” Bagby said, “she belonged to him and if he couldn’t have her, no one could.”

Balfour walked into the Hudson family home in the 7000 block of South Yale on Oct. 24, 2008 with one intention, Bagby said: To carry out the deadly threats he had been making for weeks against her and her family.

Jennifer Hudson, who purposely sat out gruesome testimony during the trial, shielded her eyes, burying her face in the shoulder of her fiancé, David Otunga, when Bagby flashed autopsy photos.

A string of witnesses saw Balfour with Jason Hudson’s .45-caliber weapon before his in-laws’ lifeless bodies were discovered, Bagby said.

Although forensic evidence never tied Balfour to the fatal shootings, the prosecutor urged jurors to look at nearly 11 days of circumstantial evidence.

“Circumstantial evidence isn’t lesser evidence. It’s the law allowing you to use your common sense, your life experience and to put the pieces together,” Bagby said. “Just keep it clear in your minds, that the absence of evidence, fingerprints or DNA, does not mean the evidence of absence. Just because something wasn’t there doesn’t mean he wasn’t there.”

Only he wasn’t there, Balfour’s attorney said, and circumstantial evidence won’t prove otherwise.

Assistant Public Defender Amy Thompson reduced the state’s case to “a story” and criticized prosecutors for drumming up a “mysterious fictional character” they suddenly said assisted Balfour.

“They have evidence they ignore. There is DNA on this gun,” Thompson said, holding the black and silver weapon that carried faint traces of DNA possibly belonging to Jason Hudson.

“It’s just not his. There’s not no DNA on this gun. There’s just not William Balfour’s,” she continued, pacing.

“The one constant in this is that every piece of DNA evidence absolutely excludes William Balfour.”

Balfour may be a “dog” for stringing women along, Thompson said, but that doesn’t make him a murderer.

The GM keys police said Balfour had at the time of his arrest must have later been planted on him, Thompson insinuated, since authorities didn’t test to see if they worked in Jason Hudson’s Suburban until three years after the crime.

And Balfour’s so-called confession to his West Side girlfriend never happened, Thompson said. Shonta Cathey testified that Balfour described killing the adults but said he spared the child, who was found in his uncle’s SUV on Oct. 27, 2008.

Cathey was “pissed” that Balfour didn’t spend enough time with her, Thompson said, and only gave him up when she felt pressured by detectives.

“The reason the facts were wrong is because she never had been told what happened. She only knew what she heard in the press and from the police,” Thompson said.

And Jason Hudson needed his gun, Thompson said, because he made his living as a crack dealer who’d already been shot.

“People without enemies don’t need protection,” Thompson said.

The murders, she said, were a drug hit. Police only zeroed in on Balfour after learning the victims’ celebrity connection.

“From the moment they got out to 70th and Yale, this wasn’t a whodunit,” Thompson said. “They weren’t trying to figure this out. They had their man. They spread it across the news.”

Then prosecutors continued the charade of convicting the wrong man and conducted a hasty investigation, she said.

“My client is an innocent man charged with killing three people,” Thompson said, asking jurors to acquit. “They have an obligation to find the people who actually did this not just for William Balfour but for the Hudson family.”

Assistant State’s Attorney James McKay sought to convince jurors that the lack of DNA was further circumstantial evidence of Balfour’s guilt.

Neighbors heard gunshots coming from the Hudson family home around the same time Balfour’s cell phone was pinging off nearby towers. Then the phone fell silent until about 1 p.m.

“For a guy who turns his phone off for four hours, do you really expect him to leave evidence on the murder weapon?” McKay boomed during 90 fiery minutes of arguments.

McKay paced and snarled and at times set people in Judge Burns’ courtroom laughing:

“Calling the defendant a ‘dog’ is an insult to dogs,” McKay said.

Then: “He’s changing costumes more often than a lead actor in a Broadway show.”

In the end, McKay asked jurors if Balfour truly had nothing to do with the family tragedy, why didn’t he rush to South Yale when he heard the news of the deaths and Julian’s disappearance?

“If you’re Mr. Innocent, you get your butt back to South Yale,” McKay said. “If you care about that child, you get over there and you look for him, you man up and you be with your in-laws.”

The six men and six women started deliberating on the charges of first-degree murder, home invasion, aggravated kidnapping and possession of a stolen motor vehicle at 4:45 p.m. At 6:30 p.m., they asked the judge to clarify whether any of the keys found belonged to the Hudson home (which the judge declined to answer), and they also asked for transcripts.

They have not been told that Balfour was on parole on carjacking and attempted murder charges at the time of his arrest.

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