By Jason Meisner and Stacy St. Clair
10:47 PM EDT, May 9, 2012
After less than two hours of deliberations Wednesday night, the jury deliberating the fate of the man accused of killing Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother and nephew requested transcripts from witnesses who testified in the case and then asked about keys, officials said.
The jurors deciding the fate of William Balfour told court officials at about 6:15 p.m. that they had two questions for the judge. The lawyers were instructed to meet with the judge in the courtroom, officials said.
When the lawyers and judge gathered in the court room, the Jurors requested transcripts of testimony but weren’t specific about which witnesses they wanted.
The second question was less clear. Jurors asked if any keys were connected to the Hudson family home where two of the murders took place. Testimony indicated that police recovered keys from Balfour when he was arrested.
Judge Charles Burns asked the jurors which transcripts they meant. On the second question, he directed them to the evidence and legal instructions and told them to continue to deliberate.
They continued deliberating before recessing at about 9:40 p.m. Wednesday without reaching a verdict after a total of about 5 hours.
The judge scheduled them to resume the closed-door discussions at about 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
He sequestered the jury overnight – presumably at a hotel convenient to the West Side courthouse.
Before the case went to the jury, Hudson wept and buried her face in her fiancé's shoulder today as prosecutors implored jurors to use their common sense when deciding whether Balfour killed the singer's mother, brother and young nephew in October 2008.
Acknowledging the largely circumstantial case, Assistant State's Atty. Jennifer Bagby said witness testimony, firearms evidence and cell phone technology presented during the 11-day trial all pointed toward Balfour. It did not matter that authorities had no DNA or fingerprints connecting him to the crime.
"The absence of evidence, fingerprints or DNA does not mean evidence of absence," she said in a passionate closing argument that lasted just under an hour. "Just because something isn't there, doesn't mean that he wasn't there."
Jurors began deliberations around 4:45 p.m. after the judge instructed them on the law.
Balfour is accused of fatally shooting Hudson's mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, her brother Jason Hudson, 29, and her 7-year-old nephew Julian King. Prosecutors alleged Balfour was upset that his estranged wife, Hudson's sister Julia, was seeing another man.
The defense argued that Chicago police did not properly investigate the crime and rushed to apprehend a suspect amid all the media attention stemming from Jennifer Hudson's celebrity.
"They were trying to convict a pre-chosen defendant," said Balfour’s attorney, Amy Thompson.
The arguments wrapped up with a fiery, often sarcastic, rebuttal from Assistant State's Atty. Jim McKay. Calling Balfour a coward, McKay said the defendant would have to be the "unluckiest man in the world" to be charged with killing his then-wife's family amid a "tsunami" of circumstantial evidence.
There is little physical evidence in the case, but McKay told jurors that the circumstantial evidence is so plentiful it's even more powerful than DNA or fingerprints.
"It's great. It's better," McKay argued. "It doesn't have an interest or bias. It's neutral."
McKay explained the lack of physical evidence by telling jurors that Balfour was smart enough to wipe the gun after using it or possibly wear gloves. He also noted that witness testimony suggests he changed his clothes at least three times on the day of the murders.
"Do you think criminals don't watch television?" he asked.
According to police records, Balfour became angry after visiting Julia Hudson at her mother's home on the morning of Oct. 24, 2008, and seeing Sweetest Day balloons that she received from her new boyfriend. The couple had been separated for about eight months despite Balfour's reconciliation attempts.
After Julia Hudson left for work, Balfour entered the family's three-story Englewood home by firing a bullet through the front door, Bagby said. Donerson tried to defend herself with a broom, but she was no match for the armed Balfour, she said.
"He fired that gun over and over and over at her," Bagby said.
Bagby told jurors that after killing Donerson and Jason Hudson, Balfour was surprised to find Julian in the home. The young boy -- who had the day off from school -- represented a problem for Balfour because he could identify him, Bagby said.
Desperate to get rid of the lone witness, Balfour kidnapped Julian from the house and put him in Jason Hudson's SUV, Bagby said. She told jurors that Balfour made his stepson lie down in the back and then executed the child, "shooting him not once but twice in the back of the head and leaving that young boy to die in a pool of his own blood."
As Bagby addressed the jury, crime scene photos and happier snapshots of the Hudson family flashed on a large screen. Jennifer Hudson, who had stayed out of the courtroom when the grisly images were first shown to the jury, buried her head in the shoulder of her fiance, David Otunga, and wept.
Otunga, a Harvard-educated lawyer who has attended each day of the trial, whispered softly to her.
Julia Hudson sat next to her older sister and exchanged several glances with her as the defense tried to connect the murders to Jason Hudson's drug dealings in Englewood. She had earlier testified that her marriage to Balfour disintegrated after he began dating other women.
Despite separating in February 2008, the couple continued to have sexual relations in the months leading up to the killings. Julia Hudson testified that Balfour threatened to kill her and her family more than two dozen times, but she never went to the police or filed an order of protection.
Thompson urged jurors to consider why Julia Hudson was still sleeping with Balfour if he made threats against her family.
"She wasn't threatened by William Balfour," Thompson said. "She didn't behave as if she were."
Thompson acknowledged that Balfour behaved like a dog toward his wife and various mistresses, but she says that's not a legitimate reason to convict him of murder.
McKay, who is known in the courthouse for his zealous arguments, seized on the statement in his opening line to jurors.
"Calling the defendant a dog is an insult to dogs," he said.
If convicted, Balfour could be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
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