Trial showed rough streets Hudson left behind
By Lauren FitzPatrick and Rummana Hussain Staff Reporters
They testified in jail uniforms, owned up to felony convictions, described crack habits.
They were so accustomed to “pops” of gunfire on the block that no one called police after hearing shots the morning of Oct. 24, 2008.
They gave their nicknames and those of friends: “Daddy-o,” “Duke,” “Butter,” “Sleepy,” “Smurf,” “Widget.”
For the most part, they came from the neighborhood near 70th and Yale, where both Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson grew up, along with her ex-brother-in-law, William Balfour, who was convicted Friday of killing three of her relatives.
As much as the crime itself, the nearly three-week trial cast a spotlight on this pocket of Englewood, where Hudson, 30, and Balfour, 31, were in the same sixth-grade class at Yale School, across from her childhood home, where her mother, Darnell Donerson, and brother, Jason, were executed and from where her nephew, Julian King, was kidnapped and also later found murdered.
Throughout the trial, the witnesses told jurors from all over Cook County stories about the community Jennifer Hudson’s fame took her away from. In their neighborhood, drugs played a part in their own daily routines and in the lives of Balfour and Hudson’s brother Jason.
Balfour — who was known as “Flex” to his drug customers and buddies — sold crack and ran around with three girlfriends while making vicious threats to his wife.
One buyer was a mother of six who lived on the Hudson’s block. She overheard him yell at Hudson’s sister, Julia, the week of the shootings: “I’m going to f--- you and your family up,” Debra Hampton testified.
Another neighbor across the alley said he bought $10 in crack from Balfour hours before the shootings.
Hours afterward, Balfour was trying to get a bank robber across the street he knew as “Duke” to come out and “bust a move” with him. Abdullah Karim Smith testified he couldn’t at that point, saying: “Ain’t no moves gonna be busted right now because I’m with the kids.”
Jason Hudson, “Big J,” also dealt drugs around his mother’s home, sometimes cooking up crack for customers inside. He collected a disability check for a deformed left leg that’d been shot up on two occasions, but sold drugs for extra cash. He kept his drug stash next to a banister on the staircase.
Hudson delivered dimebags in the Chevy suburban his sister bought for him, said his half-brother, Lonnie Simpson, now a bodyguard for Jennifer Hudson. Since he needed a cane to walk, Jason Hudson employed a convicted thief from down the block to open the front door for drug customers and to walk the dog he named “Dreamgirl” after his sister’s hit movie.
Simpson bought him a black and silver gun at their father’s behest so he’d have protection. Guns were so prevalent in the neighborhood that Julia Hudson didn’t think a bullet hole under the front door lock was out of place when she got home from work on Oct. 24, about to find her dead mother inside.
“I’m thinking because the area we lived in shooting was an everyday thing,” she told jurors. “I thought that a stray bullet had hit our door.”
Balfour had the gun at a card game, friends said. He had it again at a child’s birthday party as early as August 2008, Robbin Myers testified. Myers never asked Balfour to leave his home, instead offering him a beer and a blunt to calm him as they stood on the front porch. Balfour declined, ranting about how he’d kill his wife and her family if he found her cheating.
Jennifer Hudson last visited her childhood home in Englewood a few months before the murders and left her mother a stack of signed, blank checks to pay the bills. Throughout the trial, Hudson kept the lowest of profiles and chose not to speak even after hearing the guilty verdict Friday. She and her sister asked the Lord to forgive Balfour in a written statement heavy on Scripture they released through a publicist.
Jennifer Hudson reflects on her past — and the life she escaped through her stardom — on her website.
“I feel like . . . I’ve led four different lives, and the me today versus the me from 10 years ago, I can’t even recognize that person,” she wrote. “The only way to identify myself is from my hands, my familiar face — sometimes that’s the only reminder I have of my own identity and who I used to be.”