Jennifer Hudson shut her eyes tight Tuesday, holding still on a spectators’ bench, as a police officer at the trial of the man accused of killing three members of the Oscar winner’s family described coming across bloodied bodies at the Chicago home where Hudson grew up.
Before prosecutors projected dozens of photographs of her mother sprawled on a living room floor in a blood-soaked, white nightgown and her brother shot through the head on his bed, the 30-year-old singer and actress left the room to avoid having to watch the disturbing images.
On the second day of testimony — a day after Hudson herself offered tearful testimony from the witness stand — prosecutors shifted the spotlight to the crime-scene evidence in the case against her former brother-in-law, William Balfour.
Balfour was estranged from his wife, Hudson’s sister, at the time of the killings. He has pleaded not guilty to murdering Hudson’s mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew. He sat with his eyes fixed on the murder-scene photographs on a screen, but he didn’t wince or show other signs of emotion.
Several of the photographs showed Hudson’s 57-year-old mother, Darnell Donerson, face down on the floor, a large blood stain where she was shot through the back. Donald Fanelli, the forensics expert who was on the scene that day, testified that Hudson’s mother may have used a broom by her hand in one picture in a desperate attempt to fend off the attacker. He raised the broom in court to show to jurors.
Other photos showed Hudson’s 29-year-old brother, Jason Hudson, with a gunshot wound near his ear, his head still on his pillow as he lay in bed.
At least one person could be heard sobbing at the back of the courtroom, though it wasn’t clear if it was coming from a friend or relative of Hudson’s. To spare relatives the trauma, prosecutors often let them know when they will be showing unsettling evidence.
Hudson’s sister, Julia Hudson, also left the courtroom before the photographs were displayed on a large screen, though the star’s finance, pro-wrestler David Otunga, stayed.
Earlier in the day, Hudson hung her head and closed her eyes as Chicago police Sgt. David Dowling described finding her mother’s body in the living room. Dowling described finding Jason Hudson dead in his bed, with the sheets pulled up as if he had been sleeping.
Jennifer Hudson, wearing a black top, green skirt and knee-high leather boats, sat in a fourth row bench well within view of jurors for much of the day Tuesday. Most of the time she seemed composed and engaged, leaning forward to get a better look at a witness.
Another officer testified about the frantic search for Hudson’s nephew, Julian King, who was found in an SUV three days later. Prosecutors also played a surveillance video showing Balfour getting out of a car at a gas station near the Hudson house on Chicago’s South Side before the killings. Prosecutors are trying to show he was in the area at the time — something Balfour has denied.
An auto mechanic who saw Balfour a few hours before the Oct. 24, 2008, triple homicide seemed to surprise prosecutors when he testified he never told a grand jury that Balfour told him he had a gun. Even after his grand jury testimony was read to him from a transcript, he persisted.
“He (Balfour) never said nothing about a gun. He just said he was dirty,” Tyrone Dunbar said.
With no surviving witnesses to the murders, prosecutors must offer overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Balfour committed the crime. One challenge will be tying Balfour to the alleged murder weapon, a silver and black .45-calibre handgun.
Prosecutors claim Balfour targeted the family in a horrific act of vindictiveness against his ex-wife. They believe he became enraged by balloons he saw at the home that he thought were from her new boyfriend.
Defense attorneys have said the killing could be connected to alleged drug dealing by Hudson’s brother.
Prosecutors contend Balfour went inside the three-story house around 9 a.m. and shot Hudson’s mother and brother. Investigators allege he then drove off in Jason Hudson’s sport utility vehicle with 7-year-old Julian inside, and later shot the boy in the head as he lay behind a front seat.
Jennifer Hudson took the witness stand for about 30 minutes Monday in sometimes tearful testimony. Hudson, who was in Florida at the time of the shootings, testified that she was dismayed when she learned in 2006 that her sister was going to marry Balfour, whom she said she always disliked.
If convicted of at least two of the murder counts, Balfour would face a mandatory life sentence.