April 23, 2012— -- Jennifer Hudson took the stand for nearly an hour this afternoon as the first witness in the Chicago trial of the man charged with killing her mother, brother and nephew.
"None of us wanted her to marry him," Hudson said of her sister's marriage to defendant William Balfour, her voice cracking with emotion. "We did not like how he treated her... I tried to keep my distance from William."
Crying on the stand at one point, Hudson, who has vowed to attend every day of the trial, paused for a few seconds to compose herself.
The award-winning actress and singer choked up when asked about her relationship with her mother, saying, "I slept with my mom until I was 16 years old."
Hudson also testified she would sign blank checks and leave them for her mother, so that she could pay the household bills.
Hudson, 30, described the last time she saw her mother, a few days before the killings in the family home. She said she remembered it vividly because it was one of the few times that the entire family came over to share a meal. "Thank God I got that," she testified.
Hudson's voice cracked with emotion almost every time she spoke about her mother. At one point a deputy brought her a box of tissues and a cup of water.
Hudson testified that she knew something was wrong on the day of the killings in 2008 because her mother didn't text her that morning as she usually did by 9 a.m.
Despite her powerhouse of a singing voice, Hudson had to be instructed more than once to speak louder on the witness stand, even with a microphone in front of her.
Hudson said she learned of the killings from her sister, Julia Hudson, a bus driver, and flew back to Chicago to identify the bodies of her mother and brother at the medical examiner's office. She did the same thing a few days later for her 7-year-old nephew, Julian, for whom she said she had often babysat.
On cross examination, the defense asked Hudson about brother Jason Hudson's being shot in the past. The defense's opening statement painted a portrait of Jason, 29, as a drug dealer who "brought danger" to himself and his family.
After testifying for about 50 minutes, Hudson, who used a private entrance to gain access to court, sat in the gallery with fiance David Otunga and a bodyguard, in addition to two deputies who guarded the bench on which she sat.
The courtroom itself had few members of the public, with most attendees apparently related to the Hudsons or the defendant. At least three benches in gallery were empty.
Showing little emotion, Julia Hudson testified later today that she knew Balfour was a drug dealer. "I eventually fell for him, after him being so persistent," she said of their relationship
They were married Dec. 30, 2006. She didn't invite or tell her mother, brother Jason or sister Jennifer about the wedding.
She testified that their relationship took a tumble after she returned from a trip to Japan with Jennifer promoting "Dreamgirls" in February 2007.
She said she realized in the year after Japan that Balfour was having relationships with three other women. "It was not a secret, they would call, I would answer," she said.
She said her mother and Balfour "didn't get along."
"He was jealous," she said. "Wouldn't like anybody to do anything. Everything was a problem."
The jealousy apparently extended to her son from a previous relationship. "Julian couldn't kiss me. 'Don't kiss my wife,'" she said Balfour would tell her then 6-year-old son, Julian.
Balfour's trial opened this morning with State's Attorney Veryl Gambino recounting the defendant's alleged threat to his estranged wife, Julia Hudson, in the weeks preceding the killings: "If you leave me, I'll kill you. I'll kill your family first and then I'll kill you."
Gambino went on to describe Balfour as being enraged that Julia was dating another man and said he had issued several threats against her and her family, despite his being involved with two other women. Balfour allegedly went into a rage Oct. 24, 2008, after seeing balloons sent to Julia Hudson by another man and punched them.
After fatally shooting the actress' mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, in her living room, prosecutors allege, he shot Hudson's brother, Jason, as he lay in bed, before kidnapping her nephew, Julian. Investigators believe the boy was shot in the head as he lay behind the front seat of an SUV.
Balfour has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and his trial is expected to last a month.
Julia Hudson found her mother's body in her home and initially thought she had fallen. It wasn't until she saw blood that she realized something worse had taken place. Julia ran screaming from the house and called 911.
Far from her "Dreamgirl" life in Hollywood, Jennifer Hudson has pledged to be in attendance every day during the murder trial.
The killings happened in the family home in the tough Englewood neighborhood of Chicago where Jennifer grew up. The trial is likely to throw a harsh spotlight on the gritty world from which the actress rose to stardom.
The unwelcome spotlight could not be more different from the celebrity glare to which she has become accustomed. Her career got a running start when she appeared on "American Idol" in 2004. She lost but later beat out that year's winner, Fantasia, for the coveted role of Effie White in the movie "Dreamgirls." She took home a Golden Globe and an Oscar in 2007 for that performance and followed with a Grammy Award in 2008.
Although she took a break from her career in the wake of the killings, she has returned to multi-media success. She appears in the new "Three Stooges" movie as a nun and sings the lead song on the soundtrack for the just-released film, "Think Like a Man."
Amy DuBois Barnett, editor-in-chief of Ebony Magazine, which featured a cover story on Hudson in January, told ABC News that "she has not only survived this tragedy, she has managed to thrive. If anything, her career has gotten stronger since this tragedy has taken place."