Potential jurors got their first look Thursday at the man accused in the 2008 murders of singer/actress Jennifer Hudson’s mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew ahead of trial testimony set to begin later this month.
When Judge Charles Burns introduced the defendant William Balfour — Balfour tugged nervously on his tie as he turned to face the 150 would-be jurors, and said firmly, “Good afternoon, everybody.” Many of the would-be jurors responded in unison: “Good afternoon.'”
Prosecutors allege Balfour, 30, the husband of Jennifer Hudson’s sister, shot the family in a jealous rage because Julia Hudson was dating another man.
The pool of potential jurors filled-out questionnaires that will help determine if they will be among the 12 jurors and six alternates who will sit in judgment of Balfour.
Some of those crowded on the courtroom benches gasped and their eyes widened when the judge read the name of the case and the indictment, presumably realizing for the first time they might be part of the high-profile, celebrity trial. When the judge asked if anyone was closely acquainted with any of the witness names he read, about 10 of the possible jurors raised their hands.
Jennifer Hudson, 30, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress in 2007 for her role in “Dreamgirls” and a Grammy for best R&B album the same year of the killings, did not attend proceedings on Thursday, though she is expected to attend once testimony gets under way.
Judge Burns spoke at length about the gravity of jurors’ duties if selected. Striking a professorial tone, he emphasized repeatedly that they should not allow anything they have heard about the killings to affect their judgment.
“Cases in our country are not tried on street corners or over dinner or in the media,” the judge told them. “They are tried in the courtroom.”
Potential jurors should avoid reading, listening to or watching the news, and they should not surf the Internet, the judge instructed them sternly.
“No Twitter, no Facebook, no LinkedIn,” he said.
Burns has also strictly barred reporters from tweeting or posting messages to Facebook from inside the courtroom, a court spokesman explaining that he didn’t want constant typing on cell phones to distract jurors and other courtroom participants.
Jennifer Hudson reportedly told investigators she talked to her mother in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood every day and knew something was wrong when she hadn’t heard from her by late in the morning of Oct. 24, 2008.
Several hours later, Hudson’s mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and brother, Jason Hudson, 29, were found shot to death in the family’s home. The body of her nephew Julian King was found days later in a vehicle several miles away.
The trial starts April 23.