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Jennifer Hudson fine until asked about brother

Updated: May 25, 2012 8:17AM

The People vs. William Balfour, better known as the Jennifer Hudson trial, picked up the one element it had been missing Monday — a compelling defense.

By compelling, I mean capable of maintaining one’s interest, not necessarily to be confused with convincing.

After all, celebrity and star power only holds an audience’s attention for so long. Then they look for the story line.

In suggesting that Hudson’s mother, brother and nephew were murdered because her brother was allegedly a big-time drug dealer, Assistant Public Defender Amy Thompson turned what shaped up as a straightforward case into something better suited for a Hollywood scriptwriter.

This was no nibbling at the edges defense theory aimed at raising reasonable doubt. Thompson signaled she will mount a full-throated they-got-the-wrong-guy defense of Balfour, who at the time was the estranged husband of Hudson’s sister, Julia.

The defense even posited an alternative suspect — a neighbor of the Hudsons who Thompson contends assisted Jason Hudson in his illegal drug business.

Notably, neither the prosecution nor defense theories of what happened the morning of Oct. 24, 2008, in the modest Englewood home where Hudson grew up have anything to do with the person responsible for packing all the seats in Judge Charles Burns’ courtroom on Monday.

Both sides seem to agree the family of Academy Award-winning actress and singer Hudson weren’t killed because of her wealth and fame but in spite of it.

While her success allowed Hudson to escape Englewood, it wasn’t enough to protect her from the effects of the violence that are such a part of everyday life there that nobody even thought to report the sounds of gunshots that morning.

I was hanging around outside the courtroom late Monday morning waiting for the trial to start when a group of Hudson family members poured out of an elevator.

A tall, thin, wide-eyed woman was past me before I realized it was the actress herself, my first impression being that she must be some younger cousin.

Her black dress was elegant — not in a movie star way, more like what you’d expect to see in an African-American church on Sunday, which as we all know is where Hudson got her start, singing in the choir.

Hudson went through the metal detectors outside the courtroom like everyone else, then had to raise her arms for a pat-down by a latex-gloved sheriff’s deputy.

When she looked back over her shoulder, she appeared distraught, then was hustled into the judge’s chambers instead of into the courtroom with the rest of the family — the first sign that she would be the prosecution’s leadoff witness.

After both sides made their opening statements, Judge Burns told spectators they could stand and stretch, which most were still doing when Hudson slipped into the courtroom and swore her witness oath before the room had even quieted.

As she answered Assistant State’s Attorney James McKay’s questions, you could see that choir girl from the neighborhood more than the jet-setting performer she has become. The judge had to ask her repeatedly to speak up. She made no effort to be the star of this show.

Though she was poised, her voice cracked several times and she fought off tears, the first time when she mentioned that she’d slept in her mother’s bed until age 16 — as an indication of how close they were — and again when discussing the last time she saw her slain family members. That was the weekend before the murders. They had come to visit her in her Chicago home. It was the first time they all did so together.

Hudson told how she played her piano and sang to them, her mother seated on one side and her brother on the other.

This was the same brother who defense attorneys say handled drugs by the kilo and owned the gun that is the alleged murder weapon. Jason Hudson, 29 at his death, had been shot twice previously and had lost his left leg below the knee as a result.

All in all, Jennifer Hudson made an excellent witness. Except at the very end.

That’s when defense attorney Edward Koziboski asked her if she knew what her brother did for a living. Hudson looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

“I don’t really know,” she said, not looking like a person telling the truth — and in so doing, gave the jury something else to think about.

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