A defense attorney for the man accused of killing relatives of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson told jurors during heated closing arguments Wednesday that prosecutors failed to prove their case. The state’s attorneys retorted in sometimes embittered remarks that the defense was clearly desperate in the face over overwhelming evidence.
Actress and singer Jennifer Hudson sobbed and dabbed her eyes when prosecutors displayed photos of the bullet-riddled bodies of her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew. Prosecutors contend Hudson’s former brother-in-law, William Balfour, killed the family members in October 2008 in an act of vengeance against Hudson’s sister, Julia Hudson, to whom he was married but estranged at the time.
With no surviving witnesses, prosecutors have spent two weeks laying out a largely circumstantial case against Balfour, a 30-year-old one-time gang member.
Public defender Amy Thompson seized on that during her closing argument, saying prosecutors had failed to meet their burden of proving Balfour was the killer.
“They know as they sit there that they have failed to prove the case,” Thompson said, almost at a shout. “I am offended,” she went on, “that they would ask you to throw your logic away.”
In a scathing final word to jurors before they began deliberations Wednesday evening, lead prosecutor James McKay said for jurors to believe Balfour is innocent they would have to believe he was just unlucky enough to have someone else kill the Hudsons after he himself had threatened to murder them at least 25 times, as witnesses had testified.
“I want to introduce you to, William Balfour, the MegaMillions winner of bad luck,” he said. “But Mr. Innocent here did everything a guilty man would do,” including lying about his whereabouts and getting rid of the clothes he wore on the day of the triple murders.
McKay at times gritted his teeth, snarled and pointed at Balfour, who has pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree murder.
At one point, he walked up to look directly at Balfour from a few feet away. His voice soaring, McKay boomed, “Calling the defendant a dog is an insult to dogs!” The comment prompted a buzz among spectators and objections from the defense.
Earlier in the day, prosecutor Jennifer Bagby displayed photographs of the victims smiling for a camera. A second later, she flashed photos of their blooded, bullet-ridden bodies.
“This defendant is the one that made (them) into these images,” Bagby said, glancing back at the photos.
Hudson bent forward, her head on her knee, crying. Her finance, pro-wrestler David Otunga, put his arm around the singer and actress, rubbing her neck.
Thompson, for her part, argued that DNA recovered from the alleged murder weapon, a .45-calibre handgun, and on the steering wheel of Balfour’s car did not match her client’s.
“The only person who we know for sure didn’t do it in Chicago,” she said, “was William Balfour.”
Thompson also made the same argument she made in her opening: All of the evidence was circumstantial and no witness could place her client at the scene of the murders.
McKay told jurors that the defense was simply exploiting a popular misunderstanding about what circumstantial evidence is.
“Circumstantial evidence isn’t just as good as direct (witness) evidence. It’s better,” he said, saying it wasn’t subject to human interpretation. The circumstantial evidence against Balfour had become “a tsunami of evidence . . . that is drowning him in guilt,” he added.
McKay also lashed out at Thompson, who had finished her closing minutes earlier.
“I don’t know what the acoustics are like in this courtroom,” McKay shouted. “But what in the world was she listening to here (during two weeks of testimony)?”
Starting her closing, Bagby laid the alleged murder weapon on the podium, the silver and black handgun clanging as it hit the wood. She said gunshot residue from the gun was found on the steering wheel of Balfour’s green Chrysler; bullets taken from the bodies were fired from the same gun, she said.
If convicted on all counts, Balfour faces a mandatory life prison term.
Prosecutors presented 11 days of testimony and called 83 witnesses, starting with Jennifer Hudson. She told jurors about the last time she saw her three family members alive and spoke with distain about Balfour, whom she had known since eighth grade.
The defense called just two witnesses – two detectives who had testified earlier – in a bid to suggest investigators botched the triple-homicide investigation.
Prosecutors say Balfour shot Hudson’s mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, in the living room of the Hudson family home on Chicago’s South Side on Oct. 24, 2008, then shot Hudson’s 29-year-old brother, Jason Hudson, in the head as he lay in bed.
Balfour then allegedly abducted Julia Hudson’s son, Julian King, and shot him as he lay behind a front seat of an SUV. His body was found in the abandoned vehicle miles away after a three-day search.