CHICAGO — Jury selection wrapped up Tuesday for the Chicago trial of the man accused of killing the mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew of actress and singer Jennifer Hudson.
The final four panelists were chosen on the second day of one-by-one questioning of prospective jurors. Among them was a member of an acrobatics group and someone who served years ago on the jury of another murder trial.
The 14 selected earlier to hear evidence against William Balfour included a school teacher, an unemployed bank teller searching for a job who lives three blocks from court and a young chocolate-company employee who said her favorite activity outside work was eating and sleeping.
The specter of Hudson’s star power and how it could affect proceedings loomed over the two days of jury selection this week.
Before he let those chosen Tuesday head home, Judge Charles Burns warned them not to switch on “American Idol” this Thursday because Hudson may appear on the show, on which she first rose to fame as a contestant in 2004.
“Please don’t watch it,” he said firmly.
Hudson’s celebrity took center stage in many juror interviews.
Most potential jurors insisted that despite what they knew about Hudson or had heard about the case, they could assess Balfour’s guilt or innocence strictly according evidence presented in court. Others were not deemed as impartial.
A data analyst questioned Tuesday was dismissed after describing himself as a “big fan” of Hudson’s who had read extensively about the case. He paused for several seconds when the judge asked if he still could be fair, finally answering haltingly, “I would do my best.”
The judge also scrutinized a woman who wrote about Hudson as an entertainment reporter for a suburban newspaper. But Burns ruled neither her job nor the fact that she knew one defense attorney was grounds to dismiss her. She was later bumped by attorneys, however, during a final stage of selection that allowed them to strike a number of people without giving a reason.
During juror questioning Tuesday, Balfour, 30, sat unsmiling and slumping in his chair. But he kept his eyes fixed on each would-be juror as they sat a few feet across a table to answer questions.
Balfour, the estranged husband of Hudson’s sister, is accused of shooting to death Hudson’s mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, brother, Jason Hudson, 29, and her 7-year-old nephew, Julian King. Jennifer Hudson is on a 300-name list of potential witnesses and is expected to attend each day of the trial once testimony begins April 23.
Questioning of jurors highlighted just how many people in the Chicago area or their relatives have had brushes with violence.
At least two people selected for the jury had family members who were murdered. The son of one woman dismissed Tuesday was shot in 2002 and is paralyzed from his chest down. And on Monday, an unemployed widow whose nephew recently killed his pregnant wife doubted she would hear the evidence against Balfour dispassionately.
“It’s way too close to home,” she said. “It’s just that there’s a child involved, and I can’t get past that.”
The young man in the acrobatic group is a member of the Jesse White Tumbling Team, which was formed by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. Among others selected over the two days was a custodian, a former corrections officers and a truck driver.