Before the murder trial of William Balfour began, Jennifer Hudson told Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez she would be there.
“This was my mother, and if it were me, my mother would be here every day,” Alvarez said Hudson told her. “I’m going to be here every day.”
So the Academy Award winner sat in court on all 11 days of testimony – until Balfour was convicted Friday afternoon of killing her mother, brother and young nephew.
Hudson, who started singing as a child in her mother’s church, quietly wept as her fiancÃ© draped his arm around her. She was led from the courtroom with her older sister, Julia, and took a pass on talking with reporters.
“We have felt the love and support from people all over the world, and we’re very grateful,” they said later in an emailed statement.
Then the sisters extended a prayer “from the Hudson family to the Balfour family.”
“We have all suffered a terrible loss in this tragedy,” they said, quoting Scripture:
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in them that perish: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them (2 Corinthian 4:3-4).
“It is our prayer that the Lord will forgive Mr. Balfour of these heinous acts and bring his heart into repentance someday.”
It took jurors about 18 hours of deliberation over three days to agree on a verdict. Jurors said they were initially split 9-to-3, with some arriving faster than others at the guilty verdict.
They hardly noticed Jennifer Hudson – and the national media filling the courtroom’s benches – once the trial got going.
“The first couple of days we felt pressure,” juror Jacinta Gholston said, “but we kind of got used to it after a while.”
She said they felt great empathy for the Balfour family, too
“He’s still a person, and this is not only about the lives of the Hudson family, but this is also his life and his family is being affected,” she said.
Balfour, 31, stared straight ahead as he heard he was convicted of killing his in-laws and his stepson, whom his attorneys said he viewed as his own child. He did not testify in his own defense. He now faces mandatory life in prison.
“My client is a very stoic young man,” assistant public defender Amy Thompson said following the verdicts. “He doesn’t emote much. . . . This is a very, very hard blow for him.”
Balfour’s mother arrived late to the courthouse and missed the announcement. Overheard at trial planning to feed her son Chinese takeout once he was cleared of the charges, Michele Davis-Balfour refused to comment Friday.
The state’s attorney denied that the Balfour case received special treatment because of its celebrity connection to Hudson, a 2004 American Idol finalist and an Oscar winning supporting actress for her debut role in “Dreamgirls”.
“Her mother, her brother and her nephew were killed,” Alvarez said. “She’s a victim.”
Alvarez said she had spoken to Jennifer Hudson and her sister, Julia, after the verdicts.
“They are relieved and we hope the verdict gives some sense of justice,” Alvarez said.
“She was very emotional, as you can imagine,” she said. “Emotional – but relieved.”
Alvarez said that prosecutors did not rush to judgment after the bodies of Darnell Donerson, 57, Jason Hudson, 29, and Julian King, 7, were discovered in October 2008.
“There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears” trying to build a case against Balfour, who did not leave fingerprints or DNA at the crime scenes, she said.
“It was a tsunami of evidence.”
Incensed that his estranged wife, Julia Hudson, was dating another man, Balfour gunned down the adults in the family’s home, in the 7000 block of South Yale on Oct. 24, 2008. He executed Julia Hudson’s son in Jason Hudson’s SUV and then left it on the West Side where the child’s body was found three days later.
Balfour had repeatedly threatened to kill Julia Hudson and her family if she left him, yet she continued a sexual relationship with him, witnesses said.
“I’ll kill you and I’ll kill your family. You will be the last to die,” Balfour repeated in the weeks leading to the murders, Julia Hudson testified.
In addition to the murders, Balfour was also convicted of home invasion, aggravated kidnapping, residential burglary and possession of a stolen motor vehicle.
Defense attorneys maintained that the victims were killed in a drug hit spurred by Jason Hudson’s crack cocaine business, and that police scrambled to make an arrest given the victims’ relationship to the star.
Keys police said they found on Balfour weren’t tested to see if they worked on Jason Hudson’s SUV for three years, Thompson said.
She hopes the Appellate Court takes a critical eye to the case.
“It has always been our position and it still is,” Thompson said, “that William Balfour is innocent of these murders.”
Contributing: Stefano Esposito