Updated 8 p.m. EDT: The jury began deliberating on Wednesday in the trial against the man accused of killing three members of Academy Award-winning Jennifer Hudson's family in a bloody rampage at their home in Englewood on Chicago's South Side.
Cook County Judge Charles Burns sent the case to the 12-person jury after four hours of tense closing arguments, during which the actress broke down in tears and lowered her head when prosecutors displayed images of her dead family members.
She kept her head lowered during much of Cook County prosecutor Jennifer Bagby's chilling closing argument. Her sister, Julia, who was married to Balfour, kept her head lowered and dabbed tears away from her eyes.
In the end, prosecutors argued that there was enough circumstantial and physical evidence to convict the actress's ex-brother-in-law, William Balfour. Defense attorneys, however, raised question about whether prosecutors were trying to build a case or solve a case, saying they wanted to pin the murders on him before there was a complete investigation.
Bagby began the state's arguments by listing the names of the victims and displaying images of their dead bodies. "They were given new names: 379 October, 378 October and 414 October," she said. "These were the numbers assigned to their dead bodies. The man who gave them their new names sits across the courtroom. It's time to hold him responsible."
The sisters continued to cry, and the jury paid rapt attention as Bagby listed the charges: first-degree murder, home invasion, residential burglary and possession of a stolen vehicle. Balfour pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his defense team has argued that there is no forensic evidence linking him to the killings.
The defense's closing focused on dismantling the prosecutor's evidence. Attorney Amy Thompson stormed the podium, her voice raised, telling the jury that the state has told them nothing but stories. "They know as they sit here that they have failed to prove their case," Thompson said. "He is on trial for his life."
She said that police investigators focused on Balfour because he was an easy target in a high-profile case. She said that witness testimony has proved that there is no DNA evidence on the murder weapon or in the SUV that links Balfour to the crimes. She called into question police work in the case, saying that Jason Hudson's keys suddenly appeared on an evidence list about a month after the killings.
Assistant State's Attorney James McKay, through clenched teeth, rebutted the defense's argument, telling jurors that there was a "tsunami of circumstantial evidence" against Balfour.
McKay began by saying, "Calling him a dog is an insult to dogs." The dog comment was a reference to a mention by defense attorney Thompson, who called Balfour a dog in an effort to defuse the fact he was cheating on Julia Hudson with multiple women. Addressing the lack of DNA evidence against him, McKay told jurors that it means "Do Not Acquit."
Updated 1:50 p.m. EDT: Closing arguments began with prosecutors painting a horrifying portrait of the day of the murders on Oct. 24, 2009, complete with images of the dead bodies. The racially mixed jury paid close attention to the prosecutors, while several of them furiously scribbled notes.
Jennifer Hudson, flanked by her fiancé and her sister, Julia, lowered her head and wept. She was dressed in a modest two-piece ensemble with a dark dress and two-tone beige-and-green gauzy jacket. Julia was dressed in a fluorescent green, short-sleeved dress. She lowered her head and dabbed her tears with a tissue.
During the hourlong closing, prosecutors worked hard to tie William Balfour to the murders in a case that is mostly based on circumstantial evidence.
"There is physical evidence in this case," said Jennifer Bagby, an assistant state attorney. "In this case, the absence of physical evidence, fingerprints, DNA, does not mean the evidence of absence." She pointed to witness testimony, tracking of his cellphone and his actions, including turning off his phone.
Earlier, Balfour's mother, Michelle, was tearful as she awaited entrance into the courtroom that morning. She was surrounded by supporters.