CHICAGO (Reuters) - An Illinois jury on Friday found the former brother-in-law of Grammy- and Oscar-winning singer and actress Jennifer Hudson guilty of murdering three members of her family in 2008.
William Balfour, 31, was found guilty of breaking into the Hudson family home and fatally shooting Hudson’s mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, her brother Jason Hudson, 29, and her 7-year-old nephew Julian King. He faces the possibility of life in prison without parole.
Jennifer Hudson, wearing a long black-and-white printed sweater, dabbed at her eyes after the verdict was read. She left the courthouse without making a comment.
“She was very emotional about the verdict,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said of Jennifer Hudson. “Very emotional, but very relieved.”
In a statement later, Jennifer Hudson and her sister Julia Hudson - who was married to Balfour at the time of the murders but has since then gotten a divorce - thanked God, the prosecutors, the Chicago police, and the witnesses who came forward.
“We have felt the love and support from people all over the world and we’re very grateful,” the statement said. “We want to extend a prayer from the Hudson family to the Balfour family. We have all suffered terrible loss in this tragedy.”
The statement adds that Jennifer and Julia Hudson are praying “that the Lord will forgive Mr. Balfour of these heinous acts and bring his heart into repentance some day.”
Hudson was determined to attend the 11-day trial, telling Alvarez: “This was my mother. If it was me, she would be here every day. I will be here every day.”
It was that close relationship to her mother, who would send her a text message every morning, that led Hudson to suspect something was wrong on the day of the murders. Her mother did not respond to Hudson’s text, giving authorities a sense of what time the murders occurred, prosecutor James McKay said.
Jurors said Hudson’s celebrity, and the accompanying media attention on the trial, played no part in their verdict.
“She’s a celebrity. We understand that. But it wasn’t about her,” juror Tracie Austin said.
Jurors took three days to reach a verdict, with three of them undecided as they sifted through the circumstantial evidence implicating Balfour.
Balfour had sought to cover his tracks, changing his clothes three times, and enlisting friends to create an alibi. But a timeline of his whereabouts was built from cellphone records, security camera video and witness testimony.
His motive was jealousy of his estranged wife Julia Hudson, who he threatened numerous times, saying he would kill her after he killed her family, according to witnesses.
A small-time drug dealer, Balfour was armed with a .45 caliber handgun he had stolen from Jason Hudson, who also dealt drugs, witnesses said.
Defence attorneys raised the possibility that an enemy of Jason Hudson in the drug trade committed the murders.
Balfour sat stony-faced as the verdict was read, but one of his relatives shook her head angrily.
Balfour’s defence attorney Amy Thompson, who referred to her client as a “very stoic young man,” said she planned to ask for a new trial at a hearing on June 8. She said she believed there were grounds for appeal.
Julia Hudson testified she wanted a divorce and blamed Balfour when her wages as a bus driver were garnished. After the two talked by cellphone on the morning of October 24, 2008, prosecutors alleged Balfour shot his way into the Hudson family home.
Julia Hudson’s son, Julian, was taken outside and shot in Jason Hudson’s sport utility vehicle, prosecutors charged.
Balfour got rid of the gun and abandoned the vehicle stolen from Jason Hudson. After an intensive search, Julian’s body was discovered in the SUV three days later.
Prosecutors relied on what they said was a “tsunami” of circumstantial evidence since they had no DNA or fingerprints directly linking Balfour to the slayings, and no one alive witnessed the killings.
Jennifer Hudson, who won a Grammy for her debut album and an Academy Award for her role in the movie “Dreamgirls,” flew home to identify the bodies. She said she had known Balfour since grade school and had never liked him.
Reporting By Andrew Stern; Editing by Greg McCune, Stacey Joyce and Eric Beech