Darnell Donerson, 57, was shot to death in her living room. Her son, Jason Hudson, 29, was shot to death in the bedroom of the house in Englewood, a community on Chicago's South Side that for years has been wracked by spasms of violence.
A relative discovered the bodies on the afternoon of Oct. 24, 2008, in what might have been a shooting sparked by a fit of jealous rage; the police didn't know for sure. But what they did know is that the mother and brother of award-winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson were dead.
The shooter also snatched the star's 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, from the house. Police investigators found the child three days later with a single gunshot wound to the head, slumped in the backseat of Jason Hudson's SUV, which was parked miles away on the city's West Side.
The man accused of the crime is William Balfour, the estranged husband of the star's sister, Julia Hudson. Balfour, who was reportedly aggrieved that Julia was dating another man, has been indicted on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and home invasion.
His trial has been set for April 23. It promises to be a spectacle unseen since the trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The case is only just now coming to trial because it has been beset by delays requested by Balfour's attorneys in order to review evidence. During a hearing in February, his attorneys tried to convince the judge that officers lacked "probable cause" to arrest Balfour because he was not doing anything illegal at the time of his arrest, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. But prosecutors pointed to witness testimony that described how Balfour had repeatedly threatened to kill Hudson's sister before the shootings.
The trial is so high profile that Cook County Circuit Judge Charles P. Burns, who is presiding over the trial, imposed a gag order on the release of all information. Because of that order, it's unclear whether the star will testify at the trial, which could last up to four weeks.
During a pretrial hearing on Monday, Burns signed an order allowing Balfour to cut his hair before jury selection begins on Thursday. He also gave permission for the defendant to wear street clothes instead of his jail uniform during the selection.
"Sure, the trial is a big deal," Stella Foster, the media and celebrity columnist for the Sun-Times, told The Root. "I imagine that Jennifer wants to get this trial over and done with. I'm sure she's ready to move on with her life. To lose your mom, your brother and nephew in such a vicious crime is hard. I can imagine this has been hanging heavily over her head and heavily over her sister's head, too. It was a cold-blooded killing. That's for sure."
Indeed, it has been more than three years since Hudson's family was slaughtered, but during an interview in 2011 on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Hudson acknowledged that she did not know if healing had begun. "It's such a shocking thing," Hudson said during the interview, according to the Huffington Post. "It's a lot to take in. It's like, 'OK, is this real? Did this really happen?' It's hard to put it in sync with reality."
While the trial may bring closure to a tragedy for the Hudson family, it promises to shine the spotlight on Englewood, a crime-ridden community that is the focus of a stepped-up police presence in the city. Last year the Englewood and Harrison districts accounted for 25 percent of murders and shootings in Chicago. And during the first two weeks of January, those areas accounted for one-third of murders and shootings, according to the Chicago Police Department. Police recently began saturating the districts with officers to target gang members and drug dealers.
"The trial will bring closure to Jennifer Hudson's family," Chicago Police Officer Danny Aguillera, a 20-year-veteran of the force, told The Root, "but the crime problem in the community is a perpetual cycle. Our officers are working hard to root out the problem, but we need the community's help."
Foster, who grew up in Englewood, agrees. "Shining the spotlight on Englewood will not bring about change in the community," she said. "We have to stop killing each other. If blacks weren't killing each other, the crime rate would be very low in this country. We have to start looking at that. We're busy hating on each other. I don't understand it. It hurts my heart."
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.