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Focus Of Hudson Family Murder Trial Shifts To Crime Scene, Forensics

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Darnell Donerson, 57; Jason Hudson, 29; and Julian King, 7; were all shot and killed in 2008. Authorities say William Balfour, the estranged boyfriend of King's mother, Julia Hudson, killed them. (Credit: CBS)

Darnell Donerson, 57; Jason Hudson, 29; and Julian King, 7; were all shot and killed in 2008. Authorities say William Balfour, the estranged boyfriend of King’s mother, Julia Hudson, killed them. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED: 4/24/2012 – 5:27 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — A day after singer Jennifer Hudson and her sister, Julia Hudson, provided emotional testimony about the murders of their mother, brother and Julia’s 7-year-old son, they sat in the audience as prosecutors shifted their focus to crime scene evidence at the trial of Julia’s ex-husband, William Balfour.

But as WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports, Jennifer Hudson left the courtroom right before prosecutors began displaying photos of the victims’ bodies.

Jennifer and Julia Hudson spent much of the day sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on a spectator bench as prosecutors called on two police officers, some of Balfour’s acquaintances, and eventually a forensic expert who testified about the victims’ deaths, while graphic photos of the crime scene and the victims’ bodies were shown in court.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

Both sisters left the courtroom before those photos were shown. Some of the photos showed their mother lying on the floor, blood staining her nightgown. Others showed their brother’s naked body and closeups of the gunshot wounds to his head.

Prosecutors are now faced with the challenge of trying the crime based mostly on circumstantial evidence. There are no surviving witnesses to the murders and the physical evidence in the case does not directly tie Balfour to the murders. His DNA was not found on the murder weapon, and DNA and fingerprints found in the SUV where Jennifer Hudson’s nephew was killed did not match Balfour either.

As CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports, on Tuesday, prosecutors called on two police officers who were at the crime scene, where Jennifer and Julia’s mother, Darnell Donerson, and brother, Jason Hudson, were killed on Oct. 24, 2008. The body of Julia’s son, Julian King, was not found until three days later in Jason’s SUV, which Balfour allegedly stole, then abandoned on the West Side.

Police Sgt. Richard Dowling, the first officer at the scene, testified he found Donerson’s body in the living room of the Hudson family home, and found Jason Hudson’s body in his bed. Dowling said he then launched a room-to-room search for 7-year-old Julian King, who was missing.

Julian’s body was not found until Oct. 27, 2008, when a man walking his dog on the West Side spotted an SUV he did not recognize on his block, then called police, believing it might be tied to the murders of Darnell Donerson and Jason Hudson. Julian King’s body was found inside. He had been shot twice in the head and covered in a shower curtain.

Defense attorneys zeroed in on the disarray at the murder scene at the Hudson home, focusing on Dowling’s description of the entire house being in disarray.

Asked “Every single room?” Dowling said yes.

The defense has implied that the three victims were shot, not by Balfour, but over a dispute tied to Jason Hudson’s own drug dealings. Julia Hudson has admitted her brother was a drug dealer, but said he did not keep any drugs at their home.

Officer Jennifer Bryk, who also testified Tuesday, said Julia Hudson got a call from Balfour at the crime scene shortly after police were called to the murder scene. Bryk said she told Julia not to discuss the murders or let Balfour know police were at the house, in hopes of locating Balfour for questioning.

Prosecutors also called on a twice-convicted bank robber, 37-year-old Abdullah Smith, who said he used to “kick it” with Balfour, and that Balfour once said months before the murders that he wanted to beat up Jason Hudson.

But Smith said he never heard Balfour threaten to shoot Jason Hudson, or threaten to harm his then estranged wife, Julia, even after she sent Balfour a text message saying “I don’t love you anymore.”

Prosecutors have said Balfour killed the Hudson family members in a jealous rage on the day after Julia Hudson’s birthday, after he saw a set of birthday balloons in Julia Hudson’s house, and thought they had been sent by her new boyfriend.

Defense attorneys have denied Balfour was involved in the murders, saying detectives ignored any other possible suspects in the rush to arrest someone in a high-profile case. They have focused on Julia Hudson’s admission that Jason Hudson was a drug dealer who’d been shot before in drug disputes.

The first day of the trial Monday was filled with powerful testimonies. Jennifer Hudson took the stand first, and her smooth, beautiful voice cracked on the witness stand as she talked about the last time she saw her three family members alive.

She sat modestly dressed with little makeup on the witness stand.

Hudson did not testify about the shootings themselves, but did provide emotional testimony that she and her family did not want Julia to marry Balfour, because they didn’t like how he treated her.

READ: Full transcript of Jennifer Hudson’s testimony

“None of us wanted her to marry him,” said an emotional Hudson. The two married anyway, although neither Jennifer Hudson, nor her mother or brother attended.

Afterward, Julia Hudson took the stand. Julia Hudson and Balfour separated in February 2008, but continued to have a sexual relationship for months afterward.

She testified that he repeatedly threatened her, pointing to one time at a McDonalds when he asked to get back together and she said no. Balfour said to her: “If you leave me, you will be the last to die. I’m going to kill your family first.”

Julia Hudson said Balfour was so jealous of anyone else’s attention to her that he got angry when Jennifer Hudson sent her sister gifts, and when Julia’s 7-year-old son, Julian King, kissed her.

“Julian couldn’t kiss me. (He’d say) ‘Don’t kiss my wife.’ Julian couldn’t lay up under me. ‘That is my wife. Get up off my wife.’ He was very jealous of Julian,” she testified.

Julia also testified about finding her mother’s bloody body in the family’s home.

“I left. I was running, I was screaming, I was hollering somebody please help mee. Somebody killed my mother. Call the police. Somebody help me,” she testified.

Defense attorneys tried to poke holes in Hudson’s claims about the threats, noting she never told police about them. She also admitted she continued a sexual relationship with Balfour even after his alleged threats.

She said she never reported any of the alleged threats to police because “I didn’t believe him.”

The defense told jurors, “This is not your guy,” and emphatically pointed out that DNA evidence from the gun and Jason Hudson’s stolen sport-utility vehicle excluded Balfour as a suspect.

Assistant Public Defender Amy Thompson claimed Jason Hudson’s drug dealing led to the murders.

“He was involved in a dangerous business and it brought danger to him and he lived in Englewood, probably the most dangerous neighborhood in the city of Chicago,” Thompson said. “(Police) did nothing to determine if it might have been Jason Hudson’s violent business that led to him getting shot twice before, that led to these murders. … They did nothing to follow the trail other than the weak trail that leads to William Balfour.”

Jennifer Hudson has been sitting in on the trial ever since she testified as the first witness on Monday, sitting with her fiancé. She is expected to attend the entire trial.

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