Prosecutors open with Hudson at murder trial
In this courtroom sketch, singer and actress Jennifer Hudson testifies Monday, April 23, 2012, in Chicago at the murder trial of William Balfour, charged in the October 2008 killings of her mother, brother and nephew. Looking on is Cook County Judge Charles Burns. Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson broke down in tears Monday while testifying at the trial of the man accused of killing her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew in a jealous rage four years ago. (AP Photo/Tom Gianni)
CHICAGO (AP) — The trial of the man accused of killing Jennifer Hudson's family opened with the marquee witness, as prosecutors put the award-winning actress and singer on the stand Monday for sometimes-tearful testimony that may well leave a lasting impression on jurors.
Hudson, wearing a simple all-black dress, broke down at one point, stopping to dab her tears and regain her composure, as she testified just yards from her former brother-in-law who prosecutors say killed her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew in a horrific act of vindictiveness against Husdon's sister four years ago.
To the surprise of many observers, Hudson, the 2004 "American Idol" finalist and 2007 Oscar winner for her role in "Dreamgirls," was the first witness called after a prosecutor and defense attorney for William Balfour finished their opening statements. She had no testimony about shootings themselves but offered moving testimony about her family, including her reaction to her sister, Julia Hudson, telling her in 2006 she was marrying Balfour.
"None of us wanted her to marry him," Hudson said, her voice cracking and struggling to hold back tears. "We did not like how he treated her," she said.
Asked later if she was ever friends with Balfour, whom she knew from junior high school, Hudson answered with disgust.
In this courtroom sketch, Willam Balfour, second from right, listens as Assistant State's Attorney Veryl Gambino gives opening statements before Cook County Judge Charles Burns at Balfour's murder trial, Monday, April 23, 2012, in Chicago. Balfour is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the October 2008 killings of singer and actress Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother and nephew. Seated next to Balfour is defense attorney Edward Kozoboski. (AP Photo/Tom Gianni)
"Never," she said firmly. "I tried to keep my distance from William Balfour."
Putting the star on the stand first was a shrewd move by prosecutors, according to one former federal prosecutor.
"It rivets the jury," said Phil Turner, a Chicago attorney. "For better or worse it increases the importance of the case in jurors' minds."
Judge Charles Burns has instructed jurors to set aside any sympathy for Hudson, but Turner said her presence is sure to be noted. And Hudson can now sit through the rest of the trial, in full view of the jury. Witnesses typically are not allowed to watch trials until they have testified, Turner said.
"Now the jury knows everything about her and that she's in the courtroom only accentuates that this is an important case," he said.
When Hudson's sister, Julia Hudson, testified later in the day about her ex-husband's alleged threats against her family, Jennifer Hudson was watching from a fourth-row bench, clutching a pink bag of tissues. She bowed her head and wiped away tears as prosecutors played a recording of the 911 call her sister made after discovering their mother's bloodied body.