Hudson suspect has long rap sheet

Drug offenses, car thefts dot William Balfour's past

CHICAGO -- The man charged with murdering Jennifer Hudson's mother, brother and nephew was a high school dropout and street gang member with a long rap sheet for drug offenses and stealing cars.

William Balfour's estranged wife, Hudson's sister, knew he was trouble -- listing him on her MySpace page as the person she knew who was most likely to get arrested.

"He was always doing crazy (things), trying to carjack people, like that," said Kevin Bennett, who grew up across the street from the Hudson home in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood and knew Balfour. "He was always asking for money."

On Wednesday, a judge denied bond and ordered Balfour held on three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Darnell Hudson Donerson, Jason Hudson and 7-year-old Julian King. Prosecutors said Balfour was angry because Julia Hudson was dating another man.

Defense attorney Joshua Kutnick said no forensic evidence links Balfour to the slayings, and a woman who claims Balfour confessed to her is "highly suspect."

Prosecutors briefly outlined Balfour's history at the bond hearing, but more details emerge from court and arrest records and from people who know him.

Raised by his mother and a godmother while his father served a prison sentence for murder, Balfour's record shows juvenile arrests dating to 1996 for marijuana possession and criminal trespass to a vehicle, then probation violations for arrests on the same counts.

His arrests and detentions got in the way of school, and he dropped out in 10th grade. Placed in a group home in 1997, he stayed only a couple of months before returning to Chicago. He worked at low-paying jobs, one as a grill man in a Wendy's restaurant and another at a steakhouse salad bar.

Balfour and his brother both found drugs, with his brother serving time on a cocaine charge. In 1992, he joined the Gangster Disciples; his nickname was "Flex."

His most serious brush with the law came in 1998, when Balfour hopped in a Chevrolet Suburban and drove off. The owner, Charles Gardner, jumped on the vehicle to stop him, but Balfour stepped on the gas.

Balfour drove off with Gardner "hanging on top of it at a high rate of speed down an expressway, swerving and weaving in and out of traffic," according to records. He drove through red lights and intentionally hit a light pole, a fence and an iron gate, records say.

That led to a conviction for attempted murder and vehicular hijacking and landed Balfour in state prison for seven years. He walked out of prison in May 2006 and was placed on parole until May 2009.

At Balfour's bond hearing Wednesday, Kutnick portrayed his client as a man who used his time in prison wisely, earning his GED and a custodian certificate.

"In prison, he didn't just sit and wallow," Kutnick said.

After Balfour got out, he started dating a young woman he'd known from high school. Five days after Christmas 2006, the 25-year-old Balfour married 29-year-old Julia Hudson, who already had a little boy. The same month, her sister starred in the movie "Dreamgirls," a role that would earn Jennifer Hudson an Academy Award for best supporting actress.

Drugs remained a part of Balfour's life after prison. He was arrested in June with crack cocaine in his car, parole records show. A judge dismissed the charge for lack of probable cause.

Bennett said people were stunned when Julia Hudson married Balfour, whom he described as someone he did his best to avoid.

It isn't clear when their marriage began to unravel, but Bennett said it was well-known that Julia Hudson wanted out.

"Julia didn't want to deal with him because she started to see what kind of person he was," Bennett said. "Julia was already leaving him, and he got mad about that."