For years it has been alleged that William Balfour shot and killed three members of Jennifer Hudson's family in a vengeful rage after her sister, Julia, rebuffed his advances to reconcile their marriage.
So when his trial began on April 23, it came as no surprise when prosecutors mapped out their case against him. They alleged that he used a stolen 45-caliber Sig Sauer automatic weapon to gun down the star's mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and brother, Jason Hudson, 29, in their nine-bedroom home on Chicago's South Side. He then stole the keys to Jason's white SUV and took her nephew, Julian King, 7, who was found dead days later.
But what did come as a surprise was the lack of physical evidence linking Balfour to the crimes. During a dramatic opening argument, Cook County Assistant Public Defender Amy Thompson stated that Balfour's DNA was not found on the gun or inside the white SUV where Julian's body was found. "He was excluded from the SUV DNA test," she said.
She said that the only reason Balfour is on trial is that the Chicago Police Department worked quickly to apprehend a suspect. They knew the case would garner a lot of media attention because of Jennifer Hudson's celebrity status, she said.
"They had to find their man, and they had to find him quickly," she told the racially diverse jury. But they got the wrong man in their haste, she said. She told jurors that they would find Balfour innocent. He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree murder in the October 2008 killings.
A Problem for the Prosecution?
Well-known Chicago criminal-defense attorney Joseph W. Lopez agrees with Thompson on a possible acquittal, he told The Root when asked about Balfour being excluded from DNA evidence in the case.
"I would think he should get off if the scientific evidence doesn't match the suspect," Lopez said. "I think they [prosecutors] have a problem if the jurors don't rule with emotion and they look at the evidence that's in the courtroom."
Lopez, who is known for representing alleged mobsters and has won all three of his most recent jury trials, including two for murder, also voiced concern about witness testimony in the trial, calling what he's heard so far "hearsay." He says he has been reading and watching news coverage of the case because he finds it interesting.
"What they've produced so far is a bunch of hearsay nonsense," he said. "Hearsay is rumor. You can't convict people on rumors."
That argument could very well be a warm-up for Lopez, a member of Drew Peterson's defense team who is scheduled to deliver closing arguments when Peterson goes on trial later this month. Peterson, a former police officer in Bolingbrook, Ill., is charged with murder in the death of his third wife. An Illinois appellate court recently ruled that hearsay evidence would be allowed at trial, which means that testimony from two of Peterson's ex-wives will be admissible during the trial, even though one is dead and the other is missing.
Indeed, arguing hearsay and eviscerating crime-scene evidence presented by the prosecution appears to the defense's strategy in Balfour's trial, which is expected to last two more weeks. The case is centered on witness testimony, including that of Balfour's now ex-wife, Julia Hudson, who alleges that he repeatedly threatened to wipe out her family because she'd left him and he believed that she was seeing someone else.
What the Witnesses Say
But jury consultant Alan Turkheimer told NBC Chicago that prosecutors could bolster a case with very little physical evidence linking Balfour to the crimes by using strong witness testimony.
"The prosecution has to empower the jurors to connect the dots," Turkheimer told NBC Chicago. "They're saying, 'Look, this is a bad guy. He wanted this to happen. He had the means to do it. Yeah, we didn't find the smoking gun — literally — but use your common sense.' "
Using strong witness testimony is exactly what prosecutors have been working to do.
Shonta Cathey, one of Balfour's girlfriends, testified last week that he confessed to the slayings. According to CBS Chicago, she testified that Balfour arrived at her home around 12:30 p.m. on the day of the shootings. One of the first things he said was that she should tell anyone who asked that he was with her earlier, at 10 a.m.
Cathey testified that Balfour left her apartment for a couple of hours. When he returned, he said, "They got shot."
Cathey says that she knew he was talking about the Hudson family members because he usually referred to the Hudsons as "they." He was arrested at Cathey's home after a fierce manhunt.
In another effort to show motive on Balfour's part, prosecutors this week put Reginald Jones, 55, a self-described drug addict and friend of Jason Hudson's, on the witness stand. He testified that he saw Balfour spying on Julia Hudson outside their home in Englewood.
But under intense cross-examination, Jones revealed that he was a frequent visitor at the Hudson house and assisted Jason by opening the door for customers looking to buy cocaine. He also revealed that he helped Jason cook crack cocaine in one of the kitchens in the home.
Stirring Jury Emotions
Julia Hudson painted a damning portrait of Balfour as the prosecution's second witness. She described him as a jealous narcissist who stalked her after she rebuffed his entreaties to reconcile their marriage. She also said that he repeatedly threatened to kill her and her family. They recently divorced.
"He was jealous," she said. "Like he didn't like anybody to do anything for me. It was always a problem. You know, so I didn't like that."
He was also jealous of her 7-year-old son, she testified. "Julian couldn't kiss me," she said. " 'Don't kiss my wife,' " he would say. "Julian couldn't lay up under me. 'That is my wife. Get up off my wife.' "
Jennifer Hudson, who was the first witness for the prosecution, described a strained relationship with Balfour and said that she would "separate herself" whenever he was around. She is expected to appear in court every day of the trial.
Despite the lack of physical evidence, strong witness testimony and Jennifer Hudson's presence could elicit sympathy from the jury, some legal experts say.
But Lopez said that the trial is not about the star, and her presence should not sway the jury. "So what, Jennifer Hudson's in the courtroom every day," Lopez said. "The case is not about her. It's whether or not the state can prove [Balfour] guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
"She had nothing to do with this case. She wasn't there. She's not a witness. Forget about her," said Lopez. "This is a case about who did it, and they haven't proved that [Balfour] did it. He didn't confess to it. Not only that, [but] the DNA evidence excludes him.
"If you have scientific evidence that excludes the person, there is a problem," he continued. "It's obvious somebody else did it. The state has to prove that he did it beyond a reasonable doubt. I don't think they are going to be able to do that, not with the scientific evidence pointed in a different direction."
Lynette Holloway is the Midwest bureau chief for The Root. The Chicago-based writer is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.