"My deepest sympathies go to Julian King," he said of Hudson's 7-year-old nephew, the boy with the big smile who looked up to Balfour, his stepfather. "I loved him. I still love him," Balfour said as he looked across the packed courtroom toward his own family, not at the Chicago superstar or her relatives seated across the aisle.
It was an odd moment in a court hearing that had little suspense. Under Illinois law, Judge Charles Burns had no choice but to impose a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole because Balfour had been convicted of more than one murder.
Many in the courtroom were anticipating either testimony or written statements from Jennifer Hudson and her sister about the horrific impact the crimes have had on their lives. But with the sentence predetermined, the sisters chose to keep their grief private.
The same security detail that had protected the Oscar-winning star and her family throughout the trial whisked them in and out of the courthouse Tuesday through the basement. After the hearing, none of the lawyers involved in the case addressed the throng of news media waiting in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building. Soon after word got out that Jennifer Hudson was gone, the bank of microphones came down and TV crews left.
Even though the outcome was foregone, the judge grew emotional as he imposed the sentence, lashing out at Balfour as he called his claims that he loved Julian "an insult to all of us."
"Your heart is an arctic night, and your soul is as barren as dark space," Burns said to Balfour in a shaky voice.
In the end, the judge imposed a consecutive life sentence for each of the murders as well as 120 years for Balfour's additional convictions for home invasion, possession of a stolen motor vehicle and aggravated kidnapping.
Burns said he was certain Balfour killed Julian because he was in the way and could have been a witness against him. Hudson's mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and brother, Jason Hudson, 29, already had been slain in the family's Englewood neighborhood house, prosecutors said.
Julian "shared his life with you. For sure he looked up to you," Burns said. "There is no doubt in my mind he looked up to you as you were putting bullets into his head. I just hope his terror was short-lived."
A Cook County jury convicted Balfour in May of the triple murder. Prosecutors alleged that Balfour was upset over his crumbling marriage to Julia Hudson and jealous that she was seeing another man.
In court Tuesday, Julian's father, Gregory King, sat hunched over on the witness stand and appeared to fight back tears as he recalled the desperate three-day search for the missing boy that ended when his body was found inside Jason Hudson's stolen SUV on the West Side. Like the other two victims, he had been shot to death.
"Instantly it was like a chunk of my heart was ripped out," he said. "I felt hopeless. I was filled with rage for William Balfour, the man who murdered my son."
King also spoke achingly of missing the little things about his son -- picking him up from school and going on field trips with him.
"I even miss his bugging me aboutSpongeBob SquarePants,a cartoon character he was kind of afraid of," King said.
During the two-hour hearing, prosecutors called several victims from Balfour's past crimes, painting a picture of a man who joined a gang at 15, sold crack cocaine and engaged in other wrongdoing.
Charles Gardner, 48, testified that he caught Balfour stealing his SUV in November 1998 and jumped onto the luggage rack, touching off a wild police chase through several South Side neighborhoods and along the Dan Ryan Expressway at speeds nearing 100 mph as Balfour tried to shake him off the roof.
Jennifer Hudson glanced at her sister as Gardner testified, at one point putting her hand to her temple and shaking her head with a smile of disbelief.
Balfour was captured and eventually pleaded guilty to attempted murder and vehicular hijacking. He spent seven years in prison and was still on parole at the time of the triple murder in October 2008.
Balfour intends to file an appeal. In one issue he raised in seeking a new trial -- denied Tuesday by the judge -- the defense argued that Jennifer Hudson should not have been allowed to testify at trial because she had no direct knowledge of the murders and her celebrity unfairly influenced the jury.