By MICHAEL TARM, Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — A judge and attorneys began questioning dozens of potential jurors Monday at the Chicago trial of the man accused of killing singer and Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother and nephew.
Selecting 12 jurors and six alternates able to set aside sympathy for the Hollywood star and assess William Balfour's guilt or innocence based only on evidence presented in court was expected to pose its challenges, but nine panelists already had been seated by Monday afternoon. Judge Charles Burns and attorneys had questioned 24 of the 150 prospective jurors one-by-one for four straight hours before taking their first break.
Burns is looking to weed out anyone who might be swayed by the 30-year-old Hudson's celebrity, though he's unlikely to automatically exclude Hudson fans if they can convince him biases won't affect their deliberations.
Jury questionnaires asked several questions about Hudson, but the judge didn't dwell on the issue of celebrity in the one-on-one questioning.
Defense attorneys asked one woman who works as a physical therapist about "American Idol." She said she watched the television show the year Hudson appeared but that wouldn't affect her ability to be fair to the defendant.
She was among those accepted as jurors Monday, along with a junior high school teacher and a man who works as an attendant at a country club.
Balfour sat across a conference table from the prospective jurors, wearing a blue dress shirt and tie. At one point one of his attorneys asked him, "How are we doing?" Balfour nodded his head, unsmiling.
Balfour, 30, faces a maximum life sentence if he's convicted. Burns told would-be jurors last week that anyone opposed to capital punishment need not worry because Illinois abolished the death penalty this year.
Once testimony begins April 23, court officials say Hudson is expected to attend every day of the trial, which could last up to a month. She is on a 300-name list of potential witnesses, though it's not certain she will testify.
While the judge will warn jurors to avoid watching news coverage about the case, they may see Hudson in a scheduled appearance this Thursday on "American Idol," where she first rose to fame as a contestant in 2004.
Nine of 66 questions on a questionnaire the would-be jurors were asked to fill out last week dealt with Hudson's career. One asked if they'd ever seen her Academy Award-winning film "Dreamgirls."
Hudson, who was not in Chicago at the time of the killings, told investigators she was in touch with her mother almost every day and became concerned when she couldn't reach her by late morning on Oct. 24, 2008.
Hours later, the bodies of her mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and brother, Jason Hudson, 29, were found shot to death in the family home. The body of her 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, was found days later in an SUV several miles away.
Balfour's lawyers have said the evidence is circumstantial. But prosecutors say the proof includes gun residue found on his car's steering wheel, and that testimony will show he lied about his whereabouts the day of the killings.
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