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Jennifer Hudson Takes The Stand In Family Murder Trial: William Balfour Charged In Slayings (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Hudson Family Murder Trial

MICHAEL TARM   04/23/12 10:27 PM ET  AP

CHICAGO — The trial of the man accused of killing Jennifer Hudson's family opened with the marquee witness, as prosecutors put the award-winning actress and singer on the stand Monday for sometimes-tearful testimony that may well leave a lasting impression on jurors.

Hudson, wearing a simple all-black dress, broke down at one point, stopping to dab her tears and regain her composure, as she testified just yards from her former brother-in-law who prosecutors say killed her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew in a horrific act of vindictiveness against Husdon's sister four years ago.

To the surprise of many observers, Hudson, the 2004 "American Idol" finalist and 2007 Oscar winner for her role in "Dreamgirls," was the first witness called after a prosecutor and defense attorney for William Balfour finished their opening statements. She had no testimony about shootings themselves but offered moving testimony about her family, including her reaction to her sister, Julia Hudson, telling her in 2006 she was marrying Balfour.

"None of us wanted her to marry him," Hudson said, her voice cracking and struggling to hold back tears. "We did not like how he treated her," she said.

Asked later if she was ever friends with Balfour, whom she knew from junior high school, Hudson answered with disgust.

"Never," she said firmly. "I tried to keep my distance from William Balfour."

Putting the star on the stand first was a shrewd move by prosecutors, according to one former federal prosecutor.

"It rivets the jury," said Phil Turner, a Chicago attorney. "For better or worse it increases the importance of the case in jurors' minds."

Judge Charles Burns has instructed jurors to set aside any sympathy for Hudson, but Turner said her presence is sure to be noted. And Hudson can now sit through the rest of the trial, in full view of the jury. Witnesses typically are not allowed to watch trials until they have testified, Turner said.

"Now the jury knows everything about her and that she's in the courtroom only accentuates that this is an important case," he said.

When Hudson's sister, Julia Hudson, testified later in the day about her ex-husband's alleged threats against her family, Jennifer Hudson was watching from a fourth-row bench, clutching a pink bag of tissues. She bowed her head and wiped away tears as prosecutors played a recording of the 911 call her sister made after discovering their mother's bloodied body.

"Oh my God, oh my God," Julia Hudson is heard yelling at a dispatcher, who tells her to stop screaming because he can't understand her. "My momma, my momma!"

Balfour has pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree murder in the October 2008 slayings.

A silver and black .45-caliber pistol prosecutors allege is the murder weapon lay on the prosecutor's table not far from where Jennifer Hudson was sitting for much of the day.

With her hair up in a bun, Hudson at first seemed composed as a prosecutor began asking her questions and even as she leaned around the judge's bench to identify Balfour. But the testimony became increasingly difficult, and she began crying when talking about seeing her family the Sunday before the killings and later when a prosecutor showed her a picture of her mother.

Balfour slumped in his chair, resting his head on his hand, but showed little emotion for most of the day.

After more than 30 minutes on the stand, Hudson grabbed a fistful of tissues and walked slowly across the courtroom directly in front of jurors. She then took a seat next to her fiance, David Otunga, best known for his stint on VH1's reality show "I Love New York."

Julia Hudson took the stand in the afternoon, testifying that her ex-husband was so prone to jealousy, he even became angry when her young son, Julian King, kissed her.

"He'd say, `Get off my wife,'" she said.

She described for jurors the first of many alleged threats by Balfour. After she rejected his pleas in May 2008 to reconcile, she said Balfour grew agitated.

"He said, `If you leave me, you will be the last to die. I'll kill your family first," she said, her voice quivering. She said he used precisely the same words at least 25 other times in the months before the triple homicide.

Under cross-examination, Julia Hudson acknowledged she was still having sex with Balfour days before the slayings,

The killings happened the day after her birthday. Prosecutors say Balfour became enraged by balloons he saw at the home that he thought were from her new boyfriend.

Defense Attorney Amy Thompson suggested to jurors during opening statements that the killings may have stemmed from alleged drug dealing by Jason Hudson in the impoverished, crime-ridden South Side neighborhood where they lived. Police, she told jurors, pinned the slayings on Balfour because they felt pressured to make an arrest.

"As soon as that (that a celebrity was linked to the case) became known, they knew coverage would explode," Thompson said. "The police were on the hook. They had to find their man and find him fast."

Prosecutors say Balfour went inside the three-story house around 9 a.m. and used the handgun to kill Hudson's mother, 57-year-old Darnell Donerson, in the living room, and then shot her 29-year-old brother, Jason Hudson, twice in the head as he lay in bed.

He allegedly drove off in Jason Hudson's SUV with Julian inside. Authorities say he shot the boy in the head as he lay behind a front seat.

There are no known witnesses to the slayings, and it's unclear what physical evidence exists, including fingerprints or DNA. During her opening statement, Thompson said DNA found on the gun and fingerprints found in the SUV didn't match Balfour's.

If convicted of at least two of the murder counts, the 30-year-old Balfour would face a mandatory life sentence.

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Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.

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Follow Michael Tarm at http://www.twitter.com/mtarm

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  • An Oct. 28, 2008 file photo shows a photograph of Darnell Hudson Donerson and her 7-year-old grandson, Julian King, at a makeshift memorial outside Donerson's home in Chicago. Donerson along with her son, Jason Hudson, were found shot to death inside the home Oct. 24. King was found shot to death inside an SUV on the city's West Side three days later. Donerson is the mother of singer and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson. On Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008, William Balfour, the estranged brother-in-law of Hudson, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of the family members. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

  • This undated photo provided April 6, 2012 by the Cook County Sheriff's Department shows William Balfour who is charged in the murders of the mother, brother and nephew of Oscar winner and singer Jennifer Hudson. Hudson takes center stage in a questionnaire that potential jurors are being asked to fill out to determine if they will be allowed to decide whether or not Balfour is guilty in the slayings. Nine of the 66 questions released to The Associated Press and other media outlets Friday, April 6, 2012 dealt with Hudson's career in movies, television and as an author. (AP Photo/Cook County Sheriff's Department)

  • This undated file photo provided by the Illinois Department of Corrections shows William Balfour. Balfour, the estranged brother-in-law of actress and singer Jennifer Hudson, was charged Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008, three counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of three family members. (AP Photo/Illinois Department of Corrections, File)

  • This photo shows the courtroom where William Balfour, the man accused of killing Jennifer Hudson's family will be tried, Monday, April 16, 2012, in Chicago. The Trial will begin next week in the Cook County Criminal Courts Building. The use of Twitter is creating tension between reporters and judges who fear tweeting could threaten a defendant's right to a fair trial and that issue has been highlighted by the Chicago court's decision to ban anyone from tweeting at Balfour's trial. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

  • In this Sept. 27, 2011 file photo, singer and Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson speaks in Chicago. On Monday, April 23, 2012, the Chicago trial begins for William Balfour, the man accused of murdering Hudson's mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew in 2008. The use of Twitter is creating tension between reporters and judges who fear tweeting could threaten a defendant's right to a fair trial. The issue has been highlighted by the Chicago court's decision to ban anyone from tweeting at Balfour's trial. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

  • Michelle Davis-Balfour, mother of accused murderer William Balfour, refuses to talk to the media as she leaves Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008, after bail was denied for her son who was charged Tuesday with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of home invasion in connection with the murders of Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson's family. Prosecutors allege Balfour, Jennifer Hudson's estranged brother-in-law, killed three family members because he was angry the singer's sister was dating another man. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

  • Michelle Davis-Balfour, mother of accused murderer William Balfour, refuses to talk to the media as she leaves Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008, after bail was denied for her son who was charged Tuesday with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of home invasion in connection with the murders of Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson's family. Prosecutors allege Balfour, Jennifer Hudson's estranged brother-in-law, killed three family members because he was angry the singer's sister was dating another man. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

  • This Dec. 3, 2008 file booking photo provided by the Cook County Sheriff's Department shows William Balfour who is accused of killing the mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew of singer and actress Jennifer Hudson on Chicago's South Side in 2008. Balfour is the estranged husband of Hudson's sister, Julia. On Tuesday, March 27, 2012, a Cook County judge denied a request to delay jury selection in Balfour's trial. Jury selection starts April 5 and the trial is set to begin April 23. (AP Photo/Cook County Sheriff's Department, File)

  • Jennifer Hudson's Family Found Murdered

    CHICAGO - OCTOBER 24: Residents watch behind police tape as police work and investigate in the Englewood neighborhood where 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, was reported to have been found shot to death on the living room floor October 24, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. According to reports, Hudson's brother was found dead in a bedroom of the home. Police are searching for a suspect and Donerson's missing grandchild. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 24: Police enter a home in the Englewood neighborhood where 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, was reported to have been found shot to death on the living room floor October 24, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. According to reports, Hudson's brother was found dead in a bedroom of the home. Police are searching for a suspect and Donerson's missing grandchild. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 24: A police officer stands outside the home in the Englewood neighborhood where 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, was reported to have been found shot to death on the living room floor October 24, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. According to reports, Hudson's brother was found dead in a bedroom of the home. Police are searching for a suspect and Donerson's missing grandchild. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 24: Police stand outside a home in the Englewood neighborhood where 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, was reported to have been found shot to death on the living room floor October 24, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. According to reports, Hudson's brother was found dead in a bedroom of the home. Police are searching for a suspect and Donerson's missing grandchild. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 24: Journalists watch behind police tape as police work and investigate in the Englewood neighborhood where 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, was reported to have been found shot to death on the living room floor October 24, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. According to reports, Hudson's brother was found dead in a bedroom of the home. Police are searching for a suspect and Donerson's missing grandchild. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 24: Police police remove a body from a home in the Englewood neighborhood where 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, was reported to have been found shot to death on the living room floor October 24, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. According to reports, Hudson's brother was found dead in a bedroom of the home. Police are searching for a suspect and Donerson's missing grandchild. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 25: A memorial sits outside the home of 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, October 25, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Donerson was found shot to death in her living room yesterday and her son Jason was found shot to death in a bedroom of the home. The body of 7-year-old Julian King, Hudson's nephew, was found on the West Side three days after the murders. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 25: Police Tape is stretched around the outside of the home of 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, October 25, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Donerson was found shot to death in her living room yesterday and her son Jason was found shot to death in a bedroom of the home. The body of 7-year-old Julian King, Hudson's nephew, was found on the West Side three days after the murders. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 25: Ziff Sistrunk looks over a memorial outside the home of 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, October 25, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Donerson was found shot to death in her living room yesterday and her son Jason was found shot to death in a bedroom of the home. The body of 7-year-old Julian King, Hudson's nephew, was found on the West Side three days after the murders. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 25: People stand near a memorial sitting outside the home of 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, October 25, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Donerson was found shot to death in her living room yesterday and her son Jason was found shot to death in a bedroom of the home. The body of 7-year-old Julian King, Hudson's nephew, was found on the West Side three days after the murders. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 25: Ziff Sistrunk looks over a memorial outside the home of 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, October 25, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Donerson was found shot to death in her living room yesterday and her son Jason was found shot to death in a bedroom of the home. The body of 7-year-old Julian King, Hudson's nephew, was found on the West Side three days after the murders. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 25: Spectators, police and journalists gather outside the home of 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, October 25, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Donerson was found shot to death in her living room yesterday and her son Jason was found shot to death in a bedroom of the home. The body of 7-year-old Julian King, Hudson's nephew, was found on the West Side three days after the murders. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 25: Julia Hudson (L), the sister of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, stands with Greg King, the father of her seven-year-old son Julian, as they plead for Julian's safe return during a press conference at Pleasant Gift Missionary Baptist Church October 25, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Yesterday Julia Hudson returned home to find her mother 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, and her brother Jason shot to death and her son missing. The body of 7-year-old Julian King, Hudson's nephew, was found on the West Side three days after the murders. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 25: Police Tape is stretched around the outside of the home of 57-year-old Darnell Hudson Donerson, the mother of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, October 25, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Donerson was found shot to death in her living room yesterday and her son Jason was found shot to death in a bedroom of the home. The body of 7-year-old Julian King, Hudson's nephew, was found on the West Side three days after the murders. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images) (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 27: Friends and neighbors place flowers and gifts at the house of singer Jennifer Hudson's mother October 27, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. The body of 7-year-old Julian King, Hudson's nephew, was found on the West Side three days after the murders. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 27: A Chicago Police forensic services vehicle unloads items at the parking garage where the SUV sought in the hunt for singer Jennifer Hudson's nephew was taken after it was found on Chicago's west side October 27, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. The car contained the body of 7-year-old Julian King, Hudson's nephew, who had been missing since October 24, when Hudson's mother and brother were killed at their home. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - OCTOBER 27: Chicago Police investigate the scene at 13th Street and Kolin Avenue where a young boy was found dead in the SUV sought in the hunt for singer Jennifer Hudson's nephew on Chicago's west side October 27, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. The car contained the body of 7-year-old Julian King, Hudson's nephew, who had been missing since October 24, when Hudson's mother and brother were killed at their home. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 2: Friends and relatives attend a memorial service for relatives of Oscar-winning actress, singer Jennifer Hudson at Pleasant Gift Memorial Baptist Church on November 2, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Hudson's mother Darnell Hudson Donerson, 57, brother Jason and nephew Julian King, 7, were murdered on October 24 when Hudson's mother and brother were killed at their home and her nephew later found on October 27 dead in a SUV. According to reports, Hudson and her nephew's mother, Julia Hudson would not to be attending the service. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 2: Friends and relatives attend a memorial service for relatives of Oscar-winning actress, singer Jennifer Hudson at Pleasant Gift Memorial Baptist Church on November 2, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Hudson's mother Darnell Hudson Donerson, 57, brother Jason and nephew Julian King, 7, were murdered on October 24 when Hudson's mother and brother were killed at their home and her nephew later found on October 27 dead in a SUV. According to reports, Hudson and her nephew's mother, Julia Hudson would not to be attending the service. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 2: Friends and relatives attend a memorial service for relatives of Oscar-winning actress, singer Jennifer Hudson at Pleasant Gift Memorial Baptist Church on November 2, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Hudson's mother Darnell Hudson Donerson, 57, brother Jason and nephew Julian King, 7, were murdered on October 24 when Hudson's mother and brother were killed at their home and her nephew later found on October 27 dead in a SUV. According to reports, Hudson and her nephew's mother, Julia Hudson would not to be attending the service. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 3: Flowers are loaded on to a hearse after the funeral of actress and singer Jennifer Hudson's family at the Apostolic Church of God November 3, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Hudson's mother Darnell Donerson, brother Jason Hudson, and nephew Julian King were murdered on the south side of Chicago late last month. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 3: Pallbearers carry a casket oput of the Apostolic Church of God after the funeral of actress and singer Jennifer Hudson's family November 3, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Hudson's mother Darnell Donerson, brother Jason Hudson, and nephew Julian King were murdered on the south side of Chicago late last month. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

  • CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 3: Pallbearers carry a casket to a hearse after the funeral of actress and singer Jennifer Hudson's family at the Apostolic Church of God November 3, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Hudson's mother Darnell Donerson, brother Jason Hudson, and nephew Julian King were murdered on the south side of Chicago late last month. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

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