By Gil Kaufman
On Friday (May 11) a jury handed down a verdict in the case of William Balfour, the man accused of murdering singer Jennifer Hudson’s family. Balfour was found guilty.
He was on trial for the murders of Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson’s mother, brother and nephew. The jury returned guilty verdicts on three counts of murder, as well as one count each of home invasion, residential burglary, possession of a stolen vehicle, and aggravated kidnapping.
Because Illinois no longer has a death penalty, Balfour will spend the rest of his life in jail without the possibility of parole. According to the Chicago Tribune, an hour before reading the verdict, the jury sent a note to Judge Charles Burns informing him that they were split, but still working to reach a verdict. Around the same time, Burns received another note asking for all of the evidence about the cell-phone tower coverage in the area of the murder.
The judge sent back a transcript of the testimony of FBI Special Agent Nikki Skovran, who performed a forensic analysis on Balfour’s cell phone on the day of the murders that placed him near the Hudson home around the time the victims were killed. Earlier, the jury of six men and six women had requested copies of two videos in evidence: one from an area high school that showed the time Balfour’s car was parked on the street and another of the police interrogation of Balfour, in which he claimed he left it there around 8:30 a.m. on the morning of the murders.
During the trial, prosecutors had argued that the time stamp on the school surveillance video provided proof that Balfour, 31, was lying about his whereabouts that morning. Balfour is alleged to have shown up at the Hudson home on the morning of the killings appearing agitated, saying he’d been up all night drinking. He spotted balloons that Julia received from a new boyfriend for the holiday Sweetest Day, got angry and punched the balloons, according to police. When Julia left the house to go to work, Balfour remained behind outside.
The jury began their deliberation on Wednesday night and had been sequestered at a hotel for two nights.
As the verdict was read, Hudson, huddled close with her fiancé, David Otunga, and sister Julia, said “yes!” and broke into tears, according to CNN.
Lawyers for Balfour had argued that the state’s case was based largely on circumstantial evidence and lacked any DNA or fingerprints tying Balfour to the crime scene. Furthermore, they insisted that Chicago police had hastily investigated the crime and rushed to apprehend their client because of the media attention on the case due to Hudson’s fame. They proposed the alternate theory that some other unknown assailant in the crime-ridden Southside Chicago neighborhood had targeted the family because of the alleged crack-cocaine dealing activities of Hudson’s brother, Jason. During 11 days of testimony from 83 witnesses — only two of which were called by the defense for a total of 30 minutes — prosecutors rebutted that claim by presenting witness testimony, firearms evidence and cell-phone records that pointed toward Balfour’s guilt.
Though prosecutors lacked hard physical evidence, they repeatedly alluded to threats Balfour had made in the past on the lives of Julia and her family, as well as the cell-phone records and the gun residue on Balfour’s clothing in the vehicle he stole from the Hudson home.
Hudson took to the witness stand on the first day of the trial and tearfully recounted her family’s disapproval of Balfour’s relationship and marriage to the singer’s sister, Julia. The “Dreamgirls” star choked back tears that morning as she told jurors that no one in her family wanted Balfour to marry her sister.
“We didn’t like the way he treated her, and I didn’t like the way he treated my nephew,” she said of Balfour, who had pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree murder in the October 24, 2008 slayings of Hudson’s mother, Darnell Donerson; brother Jason Hudson; and her 7-year-old nephew, Julian King.