CHICAGO — Struggling to contain his anger, a Chicago judge on Tuesday sentenced Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson’s former brother-in-law to life in prison for killing her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew in what prosecutors say was a fit of jealous rage.
In blistering comments, Cook County Circuit Judge Charles Burns rejected William Balfour’s claims that he was innocent of the crimes.
“You have the heart of an arctic night,” Burns told Balfour. “Your soul is as barren as dark space.”
Balfour was convicted in May of first-degree murder in the 2008 shooting deaths of Hudson’s 57-year-old mother, Darnell Donerson; her 29-year-old brother, Jason Hudson; and her 7-year-old nephew, Julian King.
During the trial, prosecutors portrayed Balfour, who was married to Hudson’s sister, Julia Hudson, as a jealous estranged husband who often stalked the Hudson family home after he moved out in early 2008. Balfour’s attorneys suggested someone else committed a crime in the family’s three-story house in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.
Burns’ harshest comments Tuesday came in regards to Julian’s death. The judge’s voice cracked as he recounted how terrified the child must have been in the second before he was shot twice in the head.
“I have no doubt in my mind he looked to you when you put bullets in his head,” the judge said.
Hudson, who attended every day of Balfour’s trial earlier this year, sat next to her sister and dabbed her eyes with a tissue a couple of times during the hearing, including the 10 minutes in which Burns put his own anger into words. She did not make a statement to the judge and left the courtroom without commenting.
Balfour offered his condolences to the Hudson family while maintaining that he didn’t kill their relatives.
“My deepest prayers goes out to Julian King. I loved him. I still love him,” he said. “I’m innocent, your honor.”
Burns, however, said he had no doubt “whatsoever” that Balfour committed the crimes, including the shooting of a little boy “just because he was there.”
“I don’t think you have one ounce of remorse in your soul; I really don’t,” Burns said.
Illinois does not have the death penalty, and Balfour faced a mandatory life sentence. The judge sentenced Balfour to three terms of life in prison plus 120 years on other charges, a largely symbolic move but one that underlined the judge’s feelings.
The killings occurred the morning after Julia Hudson’s birthday, and prosecutors said he became enraged when he stopped by the home and saw a gift of balloons in the house from her new boyfriend.
After his estranged wife left for work on the morning of Oct. 24, 2008, prosecutors said Balfour went back inside the home with a .45-caliber handgun and shot Hudson’s mother. He then allegedly shot Hudson’s brother twice in the head as he lay in bed.
Prosecutors said Balfour then drove off in Jason Hudson’s SUV with Julian, Julia’s son, and shot the boy several times in the head as he lay behind a front seat. His body was found in the abandoned vehicle miles away after a three-day search.
“Three days under a tarp,” Burns said of the time the boy’s body lay in the backseat of the SUV. “Just as if you threw out the trash and left it to rot.”
Although the sentence means Balfour will likely die in prison, the judge made a point of telling Balfour the sentences would run one after another, followed by an additional 120 years for his other convictions, including home invasion, aggravated kidnapping and possession of a stolen vehicle.
The only family member to speak was Julian’s father, Gregory King, who told of the three days of hoping that his son might be alive only to find out he was dead. He also spoke about what had been taken from him by his son’s death, of the everyday moments that make up a relationship between a father and a son.
“I miss picking Julian up from the school bus,” King said. “I miss going on field trips with him. … I even miss his bugging me about Sponge Bob Square Pants, a cartoon character he was kind of afraid of.”
Jennifer Hudson chose not to make a statement. During the trial, the Academy Award-winning actress for her role in the 2007 film “Dreamgirls” testified that she had known Balfour since the eighth grade and always disliked him.