On October 24, 2008, Jason Hudson, 29, and his mother Darnell Donerson, 57, were discovered shot to death inside Donerson’s home in Chicago, Illinois. Three days later, the body of Donerson’s grandson, 7-year-old Julian King, was also discovered on Chicago’s West Side. News of this shocking triple murder was soon splashed all over the news when it was discovered that the three victims were the mother, brother and niece of singer Jennifer Hudson, who had won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress the year prior.
On Dec. 1, 2008, William Balfour, the estranged husband of Jennifer’s sister Julia Hudson, was arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Darnell Donerson, Jason Hudson and Julian King. Prosecutors believed Balfour had killed Julia’s three family members because he was angry that his estranged wife was dating another man. The morning of the killings Balfour had confronted his ex after he discovered she’d been sent balloons for her birthday by another man. It was believed Balfour came back later and murdered Julia’s mother and brother in a fit of rage and then kidnapped the young boy, eventually shooting the child in the head as he lay in the back of an SUV.
At the time he was charged, prosecutors said that cell phone tower records proved Balfour was in the area of the Hudson home and not his home, as Balfour had told police. Prosecutors argued that Public-transit records and surveillance-camera footage would prove that he did not take an “L” train as he told authorities.
The trial began on April 23, 2012 in Chicago. The prosecution called more than 80 witnesses over a two-week span. Jennifer Hudson gave an emotional testimony, speaking of seeing her just days before the murders. She said in the trial that her family did not like Balfour. “None of us wanted her to marry him. We did not like how he treated her,” the star said on the stand.
Meanwhile, the defense only called two witnesses and rested its case after 30 minutes. Balfour did not testify at his trial.
In Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Bagby’s closing arguments, she said Balbour “was fueled by his obsession, his jealousy, his determination to catch his wife, Julia Hudson, with another man. She didn’t want him around, her family didn’t want him around. But in his mind, she was his wife, and if he couldn’t have her, no one could.”
Balfour’s attorneys said there is no evidence or DNA linking him to the murders.
During the deliberations, the jury told Judge Charles Burns that it was split but wrote a note, saying, “We are trying.” The judge then ordered a resumption of deliberations in an attempt to get a unanimous decision. Following that, the jury requested testimony about Balfour’s cell phone records.
Soon after that, the jury found Balfour guilty of all charges against him — three counts of first-degree murder, home invasion, residential burglary, aggravated kidnapping and possession of a stolen vehicle. The jury deliberated for 18 hours over three days.
Following the guilty verdict, Balfour’s attorney, Cook County Public Defender Amy Thompson, said the case against Balfour was circumstantial and maintained his innocence.
The attorney told reporters at the courthouse, “We are disappointed in the verdict, but we do appreciate all of the hard work the jury did in this case. We’re hoping that the appellate court will take a look at this case with a very critical eye.”
Hudson issued a statement of thank you to police and all involved. “We have felt the love and support from people all over the world and we’re very grateful. We want to extend a prayer from the Hudson family to the Balfour family.”
The statement continued, “We have all suffered terrible loss in this tragedy. It is our prayer that the Lord will forgive Mr. Balfour of these heinous acts and bring his heart into repentance someday.”
Post-verdict, the jurors said later that they overcame what was a 9-3 split in favoring a guilty verdict by putting together a timeline of Balfour’s movements from testimony about his cell phone records.
Jacinta Gholston told ABC News, “There were three of us who just needed to see the picture a little clearer. There were some holes or some gaps, per se, that just needed to be filled in.”
Another juror Paula Halcomb said, “He could not be in two places at one time. The cell phone records were key, actually.”
On July 24, 2012, Balfour was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences plus 120 years in prison.
Following the deaths, Jennifer Hudson’s family announced the creation of the Hudson-King Foundation for Families of Slain Victims. According to a statement, the foundation was created “to care for the needs of families who have lost relatives to a violent crime.”