• Jennifer Hudson Family Murder Trial Begins

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    Jennifer Hudson took the stand for nearly an hour this afternoon as the first witness in the trial of the man charged with killing her mother, brother and nephew.

    “None of us wanted her to marry William,” she said of her sister’s marriage to defendant William Balfour, her voice cracking with emotion. “We did not like how he treated her.”

    Crying on the stand at one point, Hudson, who has vowed to attend every day of the trial, paused for a few seconds to compose herself.

    Hudson, 30, testified in Chicago that she knew something was wrong on the day of the killings in 2008 because her mother didn’t text her that morning as she usually did by 9 a.m.

    Despite her powerhouse of a singing voice, Hudson had to be instructed more than once to speak louder on the witness stand, even with a microphone in front of her.

    Hudson said she learned of the killings from her sister, Julia, and flew back to Chicago to identify the bodies of her mother and brother at the medical examiner’s office. She did the same thing a few days later for her 7 year-old nephew, for whom she said she had often babysat.

    On cross examination, the defense asked Hudson about brother Jason Hudson’s being shot in the past. The defense’s opening statement painted a portrait of Jason, 29, as a drug dealer who “brought danger” to himself and his family.

    After testifying for about 50 minutes, Hudson, who used a private entrance to gain access to court, sat in the gallery with her fiance and a bodyguard, in addition to two deputies who guarded the bench on which she sat.

    Balfour’s trial opened this morning with State’s Attorney Veryl Gambino recounting the defendant’s alleged threat to his estranged wife, Julia Hudson, in the weeks preceding the killings: “If you leave me, I’ll kill you. I’ll kill your family first and then I’ll kill.”

    Gambino went on to describe Balfour as being enraged that Julia was dating another man and said he had issued several threats against her and her family, despite his being involved with two other women. Balfour allegedly went into a rage Oct. 24, 2008, after seeing balloons sent to Julia Hudson by another man and punched them.

    After fatally shooting the actress’ mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, in her living room, prosecutors allege, he shot Hudson’s brother, Jason, as he lay in bed, before kidnapping her nephew, Julian. Investigators believe the boy was shot in the head as he lay behind the front seat.

    Balfour has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and his trial is expected to last a month.

    Julia Hudson found her mother’s body in her home and initially thought she had fallen. It wasn’t until she saw blood that she realized something worse had taken place. Julia ran screaming from the house and called 911.

    Far from her “Dreamgirl” life in Hollywood, Jennifer Hudson has pledged to be in attendance every day during the murder trial.

    The killings happened in the family home in the tough Englewood neighborhood of Chicago where Jennifer grew up. The trial is likely to throw a harsh spotlight on the gritty world from which the actress rose to stardom. She is listed among the possible witnesses and might be called to testify.

    The unwelcome spotlight could not be more different from the celebrity glare to which she has become accustomed. Her career got a running start when she appeared on “American Idol” in 2004. She lost but later beat out that year’s winner, Fantasia, for the coveted role of Effie White in the movie “Dreamgirls.” She took home a Golden Globe and an Oscar in 2007 for that performance and followed with a Grammy Award in 2008.

    Although she took a break from her career in the wake of the killings, she has returned to multi-media success. She appears in the new “Three Stooges” movie as a nun and sings the lead song on the soundtrack for the just-released film, “Think Like a Man.”

    Amy DuBois Barnett, editor-in-chief of Ebony Magazine, which featured a cover story on Hudson in January, told ABC News that “she has not only survived this tragedy, she has managed to thrive. If anything, her career has gotten stronger since this tragedy has taken place.”

    Jennifer Hudson today will go from the “Dreamgirl” life of her celebrity present to the nightmare world of her family past, pledging to be in attendance every day for the murder trial of the man accused of killing her mother, brother and nephew.

    Defendant William Balfour was estranged from wife Julia Hudson, Jennifer’s sister, at the time of the killings in Chicago. He was enraged that Julia was dating another man and issued several threats against her and her family, according to court documents. He allegedly carried out those threats Oct. 24, 2008, when, prosecutors say, he fatally shot the actress’ mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, brother Jason Hudson, 29, and 7-year-old nephew Julian King.

    He has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and his trial is expected to last a month.

    The killings happened in the family home in the tough Englewood neighborhood of Chicago where Jennifer grew up. The trial is likely to throw a harsh spotlight on the gritty world from which the actress rose to stardom. She is listed among the possible witnesses and might be called to testify.

    The unwelcome spotlight could not be more different from the celebrity glare to which she has become accustomed. Her career got a running start when she appeared on “American Idol” in 2004. She lost but later beat out that year’s winner, Fantasia, for the coveted role of Effie White in the movie “Dreamgirls.” She took home a Golden Globe and an Oscar in 2007 for that performance and followed with a Grammy Award in 2008.

    Although she took a break from her career in the wake of the killings, she has returned to multi-media success. She appears in the new “Three Stooges” movie as a nun and sings the lead song on the soundtrack for the just-released film, “Think Like a Man.”

    Amy DuBois Barnett, editor-in-chief of Ebony Magazine, which featured a cover story on Hudson in January, told ABC News that “she has not only survived this tragedy, she has managed to thrive. If anything, her career has gotten stronger since this tragedy has taken place.”

    As for her possible effect on the court proceedings, former prosecutor Ron Safer said it’s a “wildcard.”

    “You never know how jurors will react to celebrity,” he said. “Some are going to be attracted to celebrity, as our society tends to be. Some will resent it. Some people will say, ‘If my relative were murdered, I wouldn’t have gotten all this police attention and the like, why should she?'”

    The trial will be watched closely in the Englewood neighborhood where Hudson’s return is bittersweet. Fans like Rosie Booker will pay close attention because she “wants her to be at peace.”

    Neighborhood resident Aughty Venable said “she was like part of the family around here.”

    But the same neighbors know that what happened to Hudson’s family is all too common here and that her presence and the attention it brings is unlikely to change that reality.

    Fifteen people in Englewood have been killed in the first three months of 2012, which has contributed to the 60 percent increase in Chicago homicides this year. To Venable, it’s the same today as it was four years ago when Hudson’s family was killed.

    “Unfortunately,” he said, “it was just a typical day in Englewood when you hear shots. I heard them and didn’t think much of it.”

    The panel of 12 jurors and six alternates is made up of 10 women and eight men. They have been warned by Cook County Judge Charles Burns to avoid media coverage of the case.

    That might be hard to do with news and entertainment outlets from around the world expected to descend on the court.

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