Jeff Truesdell
April 30, 2012 12:00 PM

It was a crime that horrified the nation: Jennifer Hudson‘s 57-year-old mother, Darnell Donerson, and brother Jason, 29, were shot to death in the South Side Chicago home where the star grew up. The body of Julian, her 7-year-old nephew, was found three days later in an abandoned vehicle. Police quickly arrested a suspect-Hudson’s estranged brother-in-law William Balfour, now 30-and charged him in the Oct. 24, 2008, killings. Hudson, 30, has rarely spoken publicly about her loss, but on April 23, the Grammy- and Oscar-winning star and Weight Watchers spokeswoman prepares to face her family’s alleged killer in court.

Will Jennifer Hudson testify and what will she say?

Not only is the singer and actress expected to take the stand, but new court documents show she may be a very important witness. Hudson, who helped identify the bodies and was later interviewed by detectives in the Trump Tower in downtown Chicago, said she had known the suspect since childhood and had warned her older sister Julia to keep her distance. Balfour had served nearly seven years in prison and was on parole for attempted murder and carjacking. According to the documents, before Julia, 34, married Balfour on Dec. 30, 2006-a wedding Hudson told police was kept secret from family members-the singer “told her not to do it.” Julia, her son Julian from another relationship and Balfour lived briefly in the family home, but it was a tumultuous union with many break-ups. Hudson told police that Balfour once showed up at Julia’s workplace (she’s a school bus driver) where he threatened her because he believed she was having an affair. Told by Julia that she wanted a divorce, Balfour replied, “If you leave me, I’m going to kill you,” she told police. “You will be the last. I’ll kill your family first.”

How crucial is Hudson’s presence in the courtroom?

Legal experts say she likely will be the “life and death” witness, asked to describe when she last saw the victims alive before helping to identify their bodies. More to the point, lawyers say she’ll be a sympathetic victim sitting daily in court, one that jurors-heavily quizzed by the judge about their knowledge of the star-will watch closely, and they may not want to disappoint her with a not-guilty verdict. That raises the stakes for the defense, says Chicago criminal-defense lawyer John De Leon, who is not involved in the case: “They don’t want her celebrity to overcome the state’s burden of proof.”

How has Hudson coped since the tragedy?

She re-emerged three months after the deaths to sing the national anthem at Super Bowl XLIII. “I could hear my brother’s voice,” she told NBC’s Dateline. “It was like, ‘Is she ever going to sing again?'” In one of her few comments about the triple homicide, she told Ebony magazine that she credits her fiance, David Otunga, a lawyer turned professional wrestler, with saving her life after he suggested meeting up in Florida when she otherwise would have been with her family the day of the killings. “That’s why I am here,” she said. Hudson and her relatives, including sister Julia, created a nonprofit foundation in her nephew’s name and gave its first gifts to underprivileged children last Christmas. While Hudson and Otunga are currently relishing life with their son David, 2, the wedding of her dreams is on hold. “There’s a trial that we need to get through first,” Otunga, 32, said in March. “It’ll be nice to put it behind us finally.”

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