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Hudson family killings trial

All eyes on Cook County for William Balfour's trial in Hudson family killings case

  • Courtroom 500 in the Cook County Criminal Courts Building will be the site of William Balfour's trial.
Courtroom 500 in the Cook County Criminal Courts Building will be the site… (E. Jason Wambsgans/Tribune )
April 22, 2012|By Tracy Swartz, RedEye

Between "American Idol," "Dreamgirls" and the Grammys, Jennifer Hudson is probably used to the spotlight by now.

All eyes will be on the Chicago native again as the trial of her estranged brother-in-law William Balfour—who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges in the killing of Hudson's mother, brother and nephew in 2008—begins Monday at the Cook County Criminal Courts Building in Little Village. Hudson, who is not based in Chicago, is expected to attend the trial every day.

Hudson fans and news cameras—more than 30 media outlets received credentials to cover the trial—are anticipated to generate a buzz that media and law experts say will be on par with the trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was found guilty last year on corruption charges, andR. Kelly's 2008 child pornography trial, which also took place in the Criminal Courts Building. Kelly was acquitted of all charges.

But don't expect the Balfour case to pique the level of interest that accompanied the recent cases of Casey Anthony, who was found not guilty last year in the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, and George Zimmerman, charged two weeks ago with second-degree murder for killing Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Experts told RedEye although the Balfour case is a murder trial involving a celebrity, it might not spark the mass appeal of other trials because cameras won't be allowed in the courtroom, as they were with the Anthony trial.

"I think [the Balfour trial] is going to get a lot of attention but not like Casey Anthony. People watched that trial every single day," said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "This Balfour case, we're going to have to be following the reports. Reports on what happened today in court or even tweets are not going to be as compelling as being able to watch it with cameras."

Trial watchers may be disappointed in the level of social media coverage of the trial. Rules forbid reporters from tweeting or posting trial updates on Facebook while in the courtroom. Reporters will be allowed to update their social media accounts when they are outside the courtroom and during trial breaks.

The real drama may be outside the courtroom anyway. TheR. Kellytrial attracted a few superfans who lavished praise on the Chicago singer at the courts building. One fan was arrested in the courthouse after yelling "FreeR. Kelly" near jurors.

Richard Kling, a professor at Chicago Kent College of Law, said the Balfour trial probably will draw spectators who want to catch a glimpse of Hudson, 30, or get her autograph.

Members of the general public also will be allowed to watch the trial in person, on a first-come, first-serve basis, as long as they register at the courthouse beforehand.

"You've got goofs who come out of the woodwork for trials like this … people who are going to want to see if they get their picture taken with her," Kling said.

Hudson events in Chicago typically have drawn large crowds. In 2008, groups of onlookers gathered outside the private memorial service at a Woodlawn church for Hudson's mother, Darnell Hudson Donerson, 57; brother Jason Hudson, 29; and nephew Julian King, 7, according to reports.

One year earlier, Hudson was greeted with screaming fans when former MayorRichard M. Daleyhonored her with Jennifer Hudson Day after she won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role in "Dreamgirls."

Kirpatrick Taylor of West Garfield Park attended the Jennifer Hudson Day event five years ago as a Hudson fan. Now he's a superfan.

"I want to get into movies. I want to get into commercials. I want to sing," said Taylor, who describes himself as an entertainer with the stage name "Uptown." "Everything she's doing I want to do."

Taylor, 42, said he's even trying to lose weight like Hudson, who famously slimmed down two years ago and now serves as a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. Taylor said he's down 16 pounds to 241 pounds, and though he really enjoyed Hudson in "Dreamgirls," her weight loss is most meaningful to him.

Nevertheless, Taylor said he doesn't plan to attend any of the Balfour proceedings and will follow the trial when he has time.

"It was really heartbreaking when I heard [the news about the Hudson family]. I love Jennifer Hudson so dearly," Taylor said. "She's an inspiration to me."

tswartz@tribune.com | @tracyswartz

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