The triple-homicide trial of William Balfour--who is accused of the 2008 killings of "American Idol" star Jennifer Hudson's 57-year-old mother, Darnell Donerson; her 29-year-old brother, Jason Hudson; and her 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, in the Chicago home where Jennifer grew up--is finally underway. And on Monday, Jennifer herself took the witness stand amid a media frenzy. The Cook County sheriff's office has reportedly issued more than 30 press credentials, for reporters from People, E!, TMZ, and others, to cover the high-profile, month-long trial.
According to The Chicago Tribune, Jennifer's voice cracked Monday as she testified that she had warned her 34-year-old sister, Julia Hudson, about Julia's estranged husband William (who has pleaded not guilty to all three counts). Crying softly during her testimony, the belter known for her big singing voice reportedly even had to be told by the judge to speak up at one point. "None of us wanted her to marry him," she said of Julia's relationship with William. "We didn't like the way he treated her, and I didn't like the way he treated my nephew."
Jennifer, dressed in all black with her hair pulled back in a bun, also recalled how she became worried when, on October 24, 2008--the day of the tragic murders--she didn't hear from her mother, with whom she was extremely close and with whom she normally spoke daily. Speaking sadly of her nephew during her 30-minute testimony, she also said, "It was always me and my Tugga Bear. That's what I called him."
Jennifer's fiancé David Otunga, a professional wrestler and former star of the VH1 reality show "I Love New York," sat in the fourth row of the Cook County courtroom gallery (the same courtroom where R. Kelly was acquitted on child pornography charges in 2008) during Jennifer's testimony, and after she was finished, Jennifer joined him. She is expected to attend each day of the trial.
Jennifer was in the courtroom building this Monday morning but, according to the Associated Press, did not attend Monday's opening statements. During those statements, the prosecution claimed that William shot the three Hudson family members in a jealous rage after Julia received a gift of balloons that he believed was from her new boyfriend. Prosecutors stated that on October 24, 2008, around 9am, William went inside the house after Julia had left for her job as a school bus driver, and he used a .45-caliber handgun to kill Jennifer's mother and brother, then drove off in Jason's SUV with Julia's son, Julian. Julian's body was found in the abandoned SUV three days later, also shot dead.
During her time on the witness stand, Jennifer spoke about how she learned of the horrific murders via a frantic phone call from Julia, flew back to Chicago to identify the bodies of her mother and brother at the morgue, and offered a $100,000 reward for her still-missing nephew. "We were trying everything, anything we could do to get [Julian] back," she recalled tearfully.
Lead prosecutor James McKay claimed Monday that William had threatened to kill the Hudson family at least two dozen times after moving out of the home earlier in 2008. McKay stated that William had told Julia, "If you ever leave me, I'm going to kill you, but I'm going to kill your family first." Julia's divorce from William was finalized last year.
The Chicago Tribune reported this past February that Jennifer had told police that she knew of these alleged threats and that there had been rumors that William had stolen Jason's pistol, which was later determined to be the murder weapon in this case.
According to the Associated Press, Judge Charles Burns has instructed jurors to put aside personal feelings or fandom they may have for Jennifer, a much-loved celebrity, and base their verdict solely on the trial's testimony. Because William was on parole--after serving nearly seven years for attempted murder and vehicular hijacking--at the time of the Hudson slayings, he faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of these heinous crimes.