Jennifer Hudson Has Forgiven the Person Responsible for Her Family’s Tragedy

Elizabeth Randolph - Author

Sep. 16 2022, Published 8:11 p.m. ET

Jennifer Hudson at the Pre-GRAMMY Gala & GRAMMY Salute to Industry Icons Honoring Julie Greenwald & Craig Kallman on Feb. 4, 2023
Source: Getty Images

In 2003, Jennifer Hudson rose to fame after entering the popular singing competition American Idol. Although Fantasia Barrino took home the coveted title that season, Jennifer’s career was just getting started.

Following her time on Idol, Jennifer secured her first acting role as Effie White in the movie adaptation of Dreamgirls. While she worked on the show alongside Beyonce, Jamie Foxx, and Eddie Murphy, Jennifer’s role catapulted her into A-list royalty.

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Dreamgirls earned the Chicago native an Oscar in 2007, which started Jennifer's journey to becoming an EGOT winner. (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony). Since then, she has parlayed her talents into other acting roles and music and even launched her daytime talk show in September 2022.

Unfortunately, Jennifer’s success hasn’t always been easy. The artist faced a significant family tragedy just as her career exploded.

(l-r): Jennifer Hudson and her mother, Darnell Donerson at a 'Dreamgirls' premiere.
Source: Getty Images
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What happened to Jennifer Hudson’s family?

Jennifer often discussed her family’s support during her American Idol days and early fame. In 2007, Jennifer and her mother, Darnell Donerson, attended the Oscars when Jennifer won Best Supporting Actress. The singer also had a close relationship with her brother, Jason Hudson, and her nephew, Julian King. Jennifer’s sister, Julia, gave birth to Julian in 2000.

By 2008, Jennifer was fresh off her Oscars win and working on other films like the Sex and the City movie and The Secret Life of Bees. However, in October of that year, Jennifer faced another life-altering moment.

On Oct. 24, 2008, Jennifer’s family members — Darnell, Jason, and Julian — were murdered. Today reported they were killed by gunshots and found dead inside Darnell’s home. The murders shocked Jennifer’s fans and community, as her mother was a pillar in the family’s church.

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Jennifer Hudson's family memorial in 2008
Source: Getty Images

Several weeks after the murders, law enforcement began investigating who was behind the crime. Police eventually arrested the singer’s brother-in-law, William Balfour. Balfour, 27 at the time, allegedly took Julian from his room, stole Jason’s car, and shot his stepson multiple times.

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In 2012, Jennifer publicly spoke about the murders for the first time on Oprah Winfrey’s Oprah’s Next Chapter. On the show, Jennifer and Julia discussed protecting their loved ones’ legacies through their charity, the Julian D. King Gift Foundation. Jennifer also admitted that she forgave Balfour for what he did to her village.

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“For the most part, it's not his fault," Jennifer said of her ex-brother-in-law, adding, "It's what he was taught, how he was brought up.”

Jennifer explained that, unlike Balfour, her mother’s values kept her and her family from making the same bad decisions he made.

“You never had a chance," she said of Balfour. "Had you had the love my mother gave us or the background that some have, then you would've stood a chance."

William Balfour believes his murder charges were a “conspiracy” against him.

Julia and Balfour married in 2006, and he was her son’s stepfather. When they separated in 2008, the split escalated their already volatile relationship. Before police charged Balfour for the murder, he allegedly told his friends that he was planning on killing Julia and her family.

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Following his arrest, Balfour faced a jury in a Chicago trial. Jennifer and Julia attended each case and were there when Cook County Judge Charles Patrick Burns charged him with three consecutive life sentences for the killings of Darnell, Jason, and Julian. Balfour also received 120 years for aggravated kidnapping and home invasion.

Family and friends of the deceased attend William Balfour's trial, including Julian's father, Gregory (second from left)
Source: Getty Images
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Despite the lengthy sentence, some believed it wasn’t enough, and Judge Burns stated in court to Balfour: ​​"You have the heart of an arctic night. Your soul is as barren as dark space."

Years after the trial, Balfour maintained his innocence and described the charges as a “conspiracy.” He also claimed to ABC News’ I-Team in 2016 that anyone could be responsible for the murders, which is what he would tell Jennifer himself if he ever saw her again. However, Chicago police have yet to reopen the case, and Balfour is still serving his prison sentence in Pontiac, Ill.

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