Actress and singer Jennifer Hudson testified Monday in the trial of a man accused of killing her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew.
She broke down in tears several times on the stand as she remembered her family. Hudson was the prosecution’s first witness.
She identified the defendant, William Balfour, the estranged husband of her sister, Julia.
“None of us wanted her to marry him,” she said. “We did not like how he treated her.”
Hudson also testified about her relationship with her mother, saying she spoke with her mom every day and slept in the same bed with her until she was 16.
Through tears, she talked about the last time she saw her family and the day she found out about the murders.
“I did everything in my power to get home,” Hudson said. She testified that she identified her relatives’ bodies for authorities.
During cross-examination, Jennifer Hudson returned to the subject of Balfour.
“Where he was, I tried not to be,” Hudson said.
After testifying, Hudson took a seat next to her fiancé in the courtroom as jurors looked on.
“It’s going to have a tremendous impact,” said Chicago-Kent law professor Richard Kling. “Sympathy and empathy.”
Next up was the state’s star witness and the reason prosecutors say Balfour killed the three family members. Julia Hudson listened as prosecutors played a recording of the 9-1-1 tape when she called after discovering her mother’s body in their Englewood home.
“Oh my god, oh my god!” she is heard screaming. “Please help me. Someone killed my mother!”
Julia Hudson says when her marriage to Balfour started to go bad, he began threatening to kill her, threats she says he repeated a couple dozen times during their marriage.
“He said, ‘if you leave me I will kill your family and I will kill you last.’” she said.
When police asked her who could have done it, Julia Hudson said, she told them “William.”
On cross examination however Balfour’s attorneys asked why, if she felt threatened, she never reported the threats to police or sought an order of protection.
Nevertheless, legal experts say the alleged threats make for compelling evidence.
“It’s going to be a difficult thing to overcome,” Professor Kling said. “Threats go to motive, whether or not he did it.”
Defense attorneys also questioned why Julia Hudson continued to have a romantic physical relationship with Balfour in the weeks leading up the murders.
William Balfour was detained for questioning the day after the victims were found at the Chicago home. Authorities at the time said that they were holding Balfour for an unspecified parole violation, but he was indicted for murder two months later.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his lawyer has said in court that there is no forensic evidence linking him to the killings.
Prosecutors have portrayed Balfour as a jealous man who murdered three people in a rage at the thought that his wife had a boyfriend.
However, defense attorneys appear to be trying to establish the possibility that neighborhood enemies of Jennifer’s brother Jason, an alleged drug dealer, could be responsible for the killings.
The deaths took place a year after Jennifer Hudson, who rose to fame as a contestant on “American Idol,” won an Oscar for her role in the movie “Dreamgirls.”
The trial is expected to last about four weeks.