By Stacy St. Clair, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — In a reflection of both the horrific and high-profile nature of William Balfour’s murder trial, several prospective jurors audibly gasped Thursday when told they could be selected to sit in judgment of the man accused of killing three of singer Jennifer Hudson’s relatives.
Some members of the 150-person jury pool then exchanged somber looks as Cook County Judge Charles Burns read a lengthy indictment against Balfour, which charges him with breaking into the Hudson family’s Chicago home in October 2008 and fatally shooting her mother, Darnell Donerson, and brother Jason Hudson. The indictment also accuses him of kidnapping and killing Hudson’s nephew, Julian King, 7.
When the judge read a potential witness list that included Jennifer Hudson’s name, an older would-be juror turned to the woman next to him and whispered, “Is that Jennifer Hudson, the actress?”
The woman nodded.
“Oh, no,” he said, shaking his head and frowning.
Hudson, who won an Oscar in 2007 for her star-making performance in “Dreamgirls,” was not in the courtroom Thursday. She is expected to attend the trial.
Balfour, who was separated from Hudson’s sister, Julia, at the time of the murders, showed little emotion as the judge detailed the charges against him. Wearing a white dress shirt and pale yellow tie, he spoke only once during the proceedings.
“Good afternoon, everybody,” Balfour, 30, said in clear, firm voice after the judge introduced him to the jury pool.
The judge never specifically addressed Jennifer Hudson’s celebrity status, but he acknowledged the extensive media coverage about the killings and asked if anyone would be unable to decide the case without “sympathy, bias or prejudice.” About 20 people stood up.
Burns said he would speak to them about their concerns during individual questioning beginning Monday.
In the meantime, the judge asked the prospective jurors to ignore everything they had read or heard about the case.
“In this country, our cases are not tried out on the street corner … or even in the media,” he said. “In this country, our cases are tried in a courtroom.”
Jurors spent part of the afternoon filling out a lengthy questionnaire seeking background information, including their knowledge of Hudson’s career and if they are fans of her work.
Burns has ordered that the identities of the jurors and their answers be kept secret until after a verdict has been reached.
Opening statements are scheduled to take place on April 23.