The Jennifer Hudson Family Murders

3 Family Members Shot to Death

William Balfour Booking Photo
Handout/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

On October 24, 2008, the bodies of Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Hudson's mother and brother were found in the family's home on Chicago's South Side. Shot to death was Hudson's mother, Darnell Donerson, and her brother, Jason Hudson. Missing from the home was Julian King, the son of Jennifer's sister Julia Hudson.

Three days later the body of 7-year-old Julian, Hudson's nephew, was found in the back seat of a SUV parked on the West Side.

He also had been shot. A .45-caliber gun found near the parked SUV was linked to all of the shooting deaths. The SUV was later confirmed to be that of Hudson's murdered brother, Justin King. A gun was also found in a vacant lot in the same neighborhood as the SUV, police said.

The case drew national attention because of the fame of family member Jennifer Hudson, who won the best-supporting-actress Academy Award for her 2007 role in the film "Dreamgirls." Hudson first gained fame after she was ousted on season three of the television talent show "American Idol."

Julia's Estranged Husband Questioned

William Balfour, the estranged husband of Julia Hudson, was taken into custody the day the first two bodies were found and held for 48 hours. He was then taken into custody by the Illinois Department of Corrections on suspected parole violation.

Balfour married Julia Hudson in 2006 but had been separated at the time of the shootings.

He was thrown out of the Hudson home by Julia's mother in the winter of 2007, according to reports. He denied any involvement with the Hudson case and denied statements that he had been seen with a gun, but remained in police custody.

Balfour served almost seven years in prison after being convicted of attempted murder, vehicular hijacking and possession of a stolen vehicle.

He was on parole at the time that the murder took place.

Brother-in-Law Arrested

Balfour was arrested at Stateville Correctional Center where he was being held on parole violation charges. Prosecutors believed that the shootings at the Hudson family home were the result of an argument Balfour had with Julia about another man. Investigators learned that Balfour tried to get a former girlfriend, Brittany Acoff-Howard, to provide him with a false alibi for the day that the murders occurred. 

'I'm Going to Kill Your Family'

According to court records, Balfour threatened to kill members of Hudson's family on at least two dozen occasions before the three murders in October 2008. Assistant State's Attorney James McKay said the threats began shortly after Balfour and his wife Julia Hudson broke up and he moved out of the family house.

McKay said Balfour told Julia, "If you ever leave me, I'm going to kill you, but I'm going to kill your family first. You will be the last to die."

Jury Selection

After answering questions about their knowledge of singer and actress Jennifer Hudson, 12 jurors and six alternates were chosen for the trial.

Potential jurors in the trial were given questionnaires which asked if they were familiar with Hudson's career, if they regularly watched "American Idol," and even if they were members of Weight Watchers, a weight-loss program for which Hudson is a celebrity spokesperson.

 

The jury was composed of 10 women and eight men and is racially diverse. While waiting for opening statements to begin a month later, Judge Charles Burns asked the jurors not to watch the television show "American Idol," because Hudson was scheduled to make an appearance on an upcoming episode.

The Trial

During opening statements, Balfour's defense attorney told jurors that police targeted him for the crime because they were under pressure to solve quickly what they knew would become a high-profile case, because of Jennifer Hudson's notoriety.

Defense attorney Amy Thompson also told the jury that DNA found on the gun and fingerprints found in the SUV, in which Julian's body was found three days later, did not match Balfour.

Balfour pleaded not guilty to the charges and claims he was nowhere near the house when the murders occurred.

'We Didn't Like How He Treated Her'

"None of us wanted her to marry him [Balfour]," Jennifer Hudson told the jury, "We did not like how he treated her."

Jennifer Hudson's sister Julia testified that Balfour was so jealous that he would even become angry when her son Julian kissed his mother. He would tell the 7-year-old, "Get off my wife," she testified.

Brittany Acoff Howard testified that William Balfour asked her to cover for him for Oct. 24, 2008, the day Hudson's family members were killed.  Howard told jurors that Balfour helped buy her a prom dress and treated her like a little sister.

"He told me that if anybody asks you, I've been out west all day," Acoff Howard said. In response to a specific prosecution witness, she said Balfour had asked her to lie for him.

No DNA, But Gunshot Residue

Illinois State Police evidence analyst Robert Berk told jurors that gunshot residue was found on the steering wheel of Balfour's vehicle and the ceiling of the Suburban. His testimony followed that of another analyst, Pauline Gordon, who said no traces of Balfour's DNA were found on the murder weapon, but that did not mean he never handled the gun.

"Some people shed skin cells faster," Gordon said. "Gloves could have been worn."

Guilty

The jury deliberated 18 hours before finding Balfour guilty on three counts of murder and several other charges in connection with the October 24, 2008, deaths Darnell Donerson; Jason Hudson; and her 7-year-old nephew Julian King.

After the verdict, jury members described the process they used during their almost 18 hours of deliberations. First, they voted on whether each witness was credible or not. Then they created a timeline of the crime to compare it with the alibi Balfour's attorneys outlined during the trial.

When the jury got around to taking its first vote, it was 9 to 3 in favor of conviction.

"Some of us tried our best to make him innocent, but the facts just weren't there," juror Tracie Austin told reporters.

Sentencing

Before he was sentenced, Balfour was allowed to make a statement.

In it he offered condolences to the Hudson family, but maintained his innocence.

"My deepest prayers goes out to Julian King," Balfour said. "I loved him. I still love him. I'm innocent your honor."

Under Illinois law, Balfour faced mandatory life without parole sentences for the multiple murders. Illinois law does not allow death penalty sentences under any circumstances.

"You have the heart of an arctic night," Judge Burns told Balfour at his sentencing hearing. "Your soul is as barren as dark space."

Balfour was sentenced to life without parole.

Grateful for Support

Grammy and Academy Award-winning Hudson sobbed and leaned on her fiance's shoulder as the jury verdict was read. She attended every day of the 11-day trial.

In a statement, Jennifer and her sister Julia offered their gratitude.

"We have felt the love and support from people all over the world and we're very grateful," the statement said. "We want to extend a prayer from the Hudson family to the Balfour family. We have all suffered a terrible loss in this tragedy."

They said they were praying "that the Lord will forgive Mr. Balfour of these heinous acts and bring his heart into repentance some day."