Jennifer Hudson’s career was soaring in the fall of 2008, but the Oscar-winning actress and singer still found time to check in with her mother back in Chicago every day between 9 and 11 a.m.
So when Hudson hadn’t heard from her mom by late in the morning of Oct. 24, 2008, she sent her a text. There was no response. That was the moment she realized something was wrong, according to a new court filing by Cook County prosecutors.
A few hours later, her mother and brother were discovered slain in the family’s Englewood neighborhood home. Her young nephew’s body was later found in a stolen vehicle abandoned on the West Side.
Hudson has rarely spoken in public about the triple slayings and has never addressed the suspect by name or discussed his history with her family.
The new details from prosecutors come weeks before William Balfour is scheduled to go on trial in what promises to be the media event of 2012 for the Criminal Courts Building because of Hudson’s celebrity. Prosecutors are trying to ensure that critical testimony by Hudson’s sister, Julia, who was estranged from Balfour at the time of the killings, isn’t barred because state law generally considers communications between spouses to be confidential.
Prosecutors haven’t yet disclosed if Jennifer Hudson will be called to testify at the trial but have listed her on their witness list. The trial is scheduled to begin April 9, though testimony wouldn’t begin until two weeks later.
Last week’s prosecution filing, which contains dozens of pages of detectives’ reports, reveals Jennifer Hudson had known Balfour since childhood because their two families lived a few blocks apart and had attended the same elementary school. She said she had heard that Balfour was jailed after eighth grade.
Detectives first interviewed Hudson at Trump Tower in downtown Chicago a short time after the killings. She told police there was tension between the two families over the relationship between Balfour and her sister. She said she had heard that Balfour had fought with her sister’s former boyfriend.
Hudson told detectives that her family hadn’t known of her sister’s marriage to Balfour in late 2006 until months later. Her sister told prosecutors that Hudson had previously advised her sister against marrying Balfour. Only Julian King, her sister’s young son from a previous relationship, attended the wedding in addition to an uncle who presided at the ceremony, the sister told prosecutors in an interview last August.
Hudson said her family was upset to learn of the marriage because of Balfour’s troubled background. She also reported that Balfour did not treat her sister well.
Balfour allegedly once went to her sister’s workplace and threatened to kill her because he thought she was having an affair with a co-worker, Hudson told police.
Hudson also said that her brother, Jason, had stopped having friends over to the Englewood home after Julia Hudson’s house keys went missing and his .45-caliber gun was stolen. She told police that her sister told her that Balfour was later heard in the neighborhood bragging about stealing the weapon.
Hudson, who at the time was living in New York, told Chicago police she had last seen her family five days before the killings when they visited her at her River North condo and estimated that she had last been at the family home on the South Side about two months earlier.
According to police, after the discovery of the bodies of Hudson’s mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and Jason Hudson, 29, an Amber Alert was issued for the missing Julian King, 7. Hudson posted an undisclosed reward for any information leading to his whereabouts, her sister told prosecutors. But no ransom demands were ever made and no one ever made a claim for the reward money. Julian’s body was found three days after the discovery of the other two victims.
Police found a .45-caliber gun stashed in bushes not far from Julian’s body. Ballistics experts later connected the weapon to the three killings, according to prosecutors.
Balfour’s cellphone records indicate he was near the Hudson home until shortly after 9 a.m. on the day of the killings, according to the court filing.
Two teenage girls who live next door told detectives that they heard gunshots coming from the direction of the Hudson home sometime around 9 a.m. that day. But neither called the police because “gunfire is occasionally heard in the area,” according to a detective’s report filed on the day of the slayings.
Prosecutors want to block the defense from raising the marital communications privilege so that Julia Hudson can testify about repeated death threats allegedly made by Balfour in the months after the two separated in February 2008. Despite their separation, their sexual relationship continued until days before the killings, according to the court filing.
Julia Hudson told police she had been threatened as many as two dozen times by Balfour, but before the October killings, she didn’t take the threats seriously because she didn’t believe he would follow through.
On the morning of the killings, Balfour showed up at the Englewood home appearing agitated and saying he had been up all night drinking, according to police. When Julia let him in, he spotted balloons that had been sent from her new boyfriend for Sweetest Day and he got angry and punched them, according to a police report. When Julia left for work a few minutes later, Balfour was still standing outside the house, she told police.
Since the killings, Jennifer Hudson’s stardom has soared after her Oscar win for “Dreamgirls.” She garnered a Grammy for her latest album, wrote a book about her dramatic weight loss and became a celebrity spokeswoman for Weight Watchers.
Among the questions that Balfour’s lawyers want to ask in a detailed questionnaire to be filled out by prospective jurors would be how closely they have followed Hudson’s movie or music career.
When Jennifer Hudson got the call that her mother and brother had been killed and her nephew was missing, she was in Miami with her fiance, lawyer-turned-professional wrestler David Otunga. She flew immediately to Chicago and met with police at the Cook County medical examiner’s office early the next day to help identify the bodies.
In one of her only interviews about the case, Hudson told Ebony magazine that Otunga had asked her at the last minute to join him for a big match. She had instead planned to go to Chicago for a planned visit with her mother.
“That’s one of the things that saved my life,” she told the magazine for its December/January issue. “I flew out to see him. That’s why I’m still here.”