By Stacy St. Clair and Jason Meisner
2:49 PM EDT, April 5, 2012
Some prospective jurors gasped today when they realized they were being considered for the trial of William Balfour, accused in the slayings of celebrity Jennifer Hudson's family members.
The moment came as the judge announced the name of the case, People v. Balfour, then introduced Balfour and read the indictment.
Judge Charles Burns asked if anyone would be unable to decide the case without “sympathy, bias or prejudice.” About 20 people stood up.
When the judge read a potential witness list that included Jennifer Hudson's name, an older man turned to the woman next to him and asked, “Is that Jennifer Hudson, the actress?”
The woman nodded.
“Oh,” he said, shaking his head.
Balfour, 30 appeared wearing a white dress shirt, yellow tie and black dress shoes. His hair is newly cut short.
He is accused of fatally shooting Hudson’s mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew in October 2008. At the time Balfour was the estranged husband of Hudson’s sister, Julia.
Potential jurors filled out questionnaires Thursday, and will be questioned by the judge starting Monday. The questionnaires seek background information, including their knowledge of Hudson’s career, if they are fans of her work and whether they have followed the media coverage of the murders.
Burns has ordered that the identities of the jurors and their answers be kept secret until after a verdict has been reached.
Beginning Monday, prospective jurors will return to be questioned individually by the judge. The major issues for the lawyers and the judge to decide will be whether any of the potential panelists have been biased by pre-trial publicity or would face hardship from missing up to a month of work in order to serve as a juror.
It could take two to three days to select 12 jurors and six alternates. But opening statements in the trial aren’t scheduled until April 23 because of other commitments of the judge.
Hudson's mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and brother, Jason Hudson, 29, were found slain in the family's Englewood home hours after Balfour had been seen on the block and neighbors heard gunshots, prosecutors have said. Her nephew, Julian King, 7, was found dead three days later on the West Side in Jason Hudson’s SUV.
Prosecutors allege Balfour killed the family members after making numerous death threats as his relationship with his wife deteriorated.
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