Jurors being seated in Hudson family murder trial

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CHICAGO (AP) — The first full day of jury selection in the Chicago trial of the man accused of killing singer and actress Jennifer Hudson’s family ended Monday without the seating of a full jury.

William Balfour is accused of killing Hudson’s mother, brother and nephew. The 30-year-old Balfour faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.

Fourteen people were selected Monday to be among the 12 jurors and six alternates after nine hours of interviewing potential jurors one by one. The last four panelists are expected to be selected Tuesday.

Cook County Circuit Judge Charles Burns and attorneys looked to weed out anyone who might be swayed by the 30-year-old Hudson’s celebrity. Burns told would-be jurors that anyone opposed to capital punishment need not worry because Illinois abolished the death penalty last year.

Hudson’s name came up frequently during questioning, though most of the would-be jurors insisted that despite what they knew about her or heard in the media about the case, they could set and consider only the evidence presented at the trial.

There was one notable exception.

One woman in her 30s, a salesperson at Xerox, was dismissed after she told those assembled in the back room, including Balfour, that she is a big fan of Hudson’s and would be unable to discount the tragedy and give the defendant a fair trial.

“I’m a fan of Jennifer Hudson’s and I feel bad for what she went through,” she said.

Only a few people said they knew little to nothing about Hudson. One women in her 30s picked for the jury said she had heard of Hudson but had no idea what she looked like.

Among those selected to serve on the panel where several who said they had relatives murdered. And one man who was selected described how an attacker 25 years ago grabbed his sister’s purse at a bus stop and slashed her throat, badly injuring her.

Asked by the judge if she thought she could be impartial given the tragedy in her family, a woman whose son was murdered in 2002 said firmly, “I know I can.” She was put on the jury.

Also chosen was a Mexican-American truck driver who said he sometimes has trouble speaking English, an unemployed women who lives three blocks from the courthouse and a customer representative at a chocolate company who responded when asked about her hobbies that, “I like to sleep, then I like to eat, then I sleep again.”

Among those dismissed included a man whose neighbors were police and FBI agents, and a Chicago school teacher who was once a character witness for a student charged with murder. Also released was an unemployed widow whose nephew recently murdered his pregnant wife.

“It’s way too close to home,” she said when asked if she could hear the Balfour trial dispassionately. “It’s just that there’s a child involved, and I can’t get past that.”

Once testimony begins April 23, court officials say, Hudson is expected to attend every day of the trial, which could last up to a month. She is on a 300-name list of potential witnesses, though it’s not certain she will testify.

While the judge will warn jurors to avoid watching news coverage about the case, they may see Hudson in a scheduled appearance this Thursday on “American Idol,” where she first rose to fame as a contestant in 2004.

Nine of 66 questions on a questionnaire the would-be jurors were asked to fill out last week dealt with Hudson’s career. One asked if they’d ever seen her Academy Award-winning film “Dreamgirls.”

Hudson, who was not in Chicago at the time of the killings, told investigators she was in touch with her mother almost every day and became concerned when she couldn’t reach her by late morning on Oct. 24, 2008.

Hours later, the bodies of her mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and brother, Jason Hudson, 29, were found shot to death in the family home. The body of her 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, was found days later in an SUV several miles away.

Balfour’s lawyers have said the evidence is circumstantial. But prosecutors say the proof includes gun residue found on his car’s steering wheel, and that testimony will show he lied about his whereabouts the day of the killings.


Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mtarm