With his fate hanging in the balance, William Balfour now knows most of the people who will decide whether he spends the rest of his life in prison in the slayings of singer Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother and nephew.
So far they include a college student, a junior high math teacher, a physical therapist, a truck driver, a former prison guard and a woman who works for a local chocolate company.
Fourteen people were picked Monday for the Balfour jury in part because of their ability to maintain an impassive demeanor under intense questioning.
But as every trial attorney and courtroom observer knows, looks can be deceiving — particularly in a high-profile case involving a celebrity.
Balfour, who was estranged from Hudson's sister, Julia, at the time of the 2008 slayings, is accused of shooting the actress's mother, Darnell Donerson; brother Jason Hudson; and nephew Julian King, 7. The killings marked a tragic turn in an inspiring rags-to-riches story that elevated Hudson to iconic levels in her hometown.
Given her local popularity, Balfour's legal team faces the arduous task of finding 18 people — 12 jurors and six alternates — who won't let the horrific or high-profile nature of the case affect their judgment, legal experts said. It's easier said than done as jurors aren't always forthcoming about their biases or preconceived notions about celebrity trials, experts said.
"They have a hard job ahead of them," said criminal-defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr., who successfully represented singer R. Kelly in a child pornography case in Cook County in 2008. "It's difficult to find people in Chicago who don't like Jennifer Hudson. If it were ... Charlie Sheen, maybe people wouldn't care. But this is Jennifer Hudson. People love her in this city."
The 14 jurors selected so far were picked from among the first 46 people questioned individually Monday. They consist of a racially mixed group of seven men and seven women from many walks of life. Four more will be selected Tuesday for the monthlong trial. Opening statements are scheduled to take place April 23.
The questioning was led mostly by Cook County Judge Charles Burns, with attorneys from both sides getting a chance to make follow-up inquiries.
While the written juror questionnaire focused heavily on Hudson's fame and whether her celebrity would prevent prospective jurors from being fair, most of the live questioning stayed away from those topics and focused instead on the more traditional issues at the Criminal Courts Building — each person's background and employment and whether they had been the victim of a crime.
Hudson's name, though, did come up occasionally during jury selection as candidates described their knowledge of her singing and acting career. One prospective juror, a pregnant businesswoman from the West Side, was excused from service after saying she could not be impartial to Balfour because she liked his former sister-in-law.
"I am a fan of Jennifer Hudson's, and I feel bad for what she went through," she said.
At least two would-be jurors claimed not to know who Hudson was. Both were selected.
Others said they could put aside their knowledge of the case and their feelings about Hudson. It's a promise in which defense attorneys rarely put much stock.
"There really is no magic-bullet question or theory when it comes to picking a jury," said Chicago-based lawyer Alan Tuerkheimer, who has extensive experience conducting jury research. "You really just have to let the jurors talk and listen to what they're saying."
Veteran criminal-defense attorney Joseph Lopez, a former car salesman who has defended accused mobsters and other notorious characters, said he relies more on his old sales instincts than his legal prowess when picking jurors. He gives great weight to such factors as where the jurors grew up, what Internet sites they visit and what kind of bumper stickers they might have on their cars.
"You have a very short time to make a very big decision," he said. "If you're not a people person, you're going to get screwed in jury selection. You have to follow your gut."
Balfour's attorneys asked the judge to eliminate one potential juror from the pool Monday because of an admitted bias. The would-be juror, a middle-age man from the south suburbs, acknowledged that he would have a hard time being fair to Balfour but refused to explain why.
When answering questions from the defense, he gave short, one-word answers and did not make eye contact. Balfour, who was wearing a blue dress-shirt with a striped tie, looked intently at the prospective juror, but the man never glanced his way.
The judge agreed that the man's answers gave him pause before officially excusing him from jury duty because serving in the long trial would create a financial hardship for him.
Adam, who also represented former Gov. Rod Blagojevich at his first trial in addition to Kelly, said that in both those cases, the defense team cared less about the prospective jurors' specific answers during jury selection and more about their demeanors. Did they look his client in the eye? Did they smile or laugh at Adam's jokes? Did they appear to be listening when he spoke to them?
"I don't care if they promise to be fair. Everyone says that," Adam said. "I care about their body language. If they're receptive to me during jury selection and willing to hear me out, then they're probably going to do the same during the trial."
Body language, of course, isn't always the most accurate barometer. After jury selection in the Blagojevich trial, the defense believed a Navy veteran would be its strongest ally on the panel because of the way he smiled at the defense table and seemed to find amusement in Blagojevich's antics.
He turned out to be among the former governor's harshest critics in the jury room.
"We thought he was wonderful and that he loved us," Adam said. "We thought he was our guy. And we were dead wrong."
Even attorneys with the most keen instincts, however, could struggle to find jurors willing to spare Balfour, experts said. The horrific nature of the crime and the city's good will for Hudson are a lot for any defense team to overcome.
"If I were his lawyer, I'd be looking for 12 individuals who were previously charged with killing their wives' family," Adam quipped. "Other than that, I don't know where you'd find sympathetic jurors in this case."