Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division
Modified on Denial of Rehearing May 6, 2015.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 09 CR 762. The Honorable Charles P. Burns Judge, presiding.
For Appellant: Michael J. Pelletier, State Appellate Defender, Alan D. Goldberg, Deputy Defender, Darrel F. Oman, Assistant Appellate Defender, Chicago, IL.
For Appellee: Anita Alvarez, State's Attorney, Alan J. Spellberg, Peter D. Fischer, Assistant State's Attorneys, Chicago, IL.
JUSTICE LAVIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Pucinski and Justice Hyman concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] After trial by a Cook County jury, defendant William Balfour was convicted of the first-degree murder of three members of his wife's family, along with charges related to the commission of these murders, including home invasion, aggravated kidnapping, residential burglary and possession of a stolen motor vehicle. He was sentenced to three consecutive terms of natural life in prison for the murders and consecutive terms of 60 years, 50 years and 10 years in prison for the related convictions.
[¶2] Defendant appeals, claiming, in the main, that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of these charges beyond a reasonable doubt while particularly emphasizing his position that the evidence did not conclusively establish that he killed the youngest victim, his wife's seven-year-old son whose body was found days after the home invasion, in a sport's utility vehicle (SUV) stolen from the child's slain uncle. The vehicle had been abandoned in the vicinity of the west-side apartment where defendant was taken into custody on the day of the murders. Defendant also avers that the search of his person was done without warrant and without probable cause, thus requiring the trial court to have barred any related evidence. Defendant also claims that the trial was unfair in that the state exaggerated negative forensic evidence as incriminating. Finally, defendant claims that his sister-in-law's testimony about his unsavory character was irrelevant and prejudicial.
[¶3] I. BACKGROUND
[¶4] Defendant was married to Julia Hudson, who had a seven-year-old child, Julian King, from an earlier relationship. At the time of the tragic incidents that are at the center of this appeal, Julia lived in her mother's house at 70th and Yale on Chicago's south side. She had been, by then, separated from defendant for eight months, during which time they were nonetheless in frequent contact and intermittently
intimate. Her brother, Jason Hudson, then 29, and her mother, Darnell Donerson, lived with Julia and her son in the family home. Her sister Jennifer Hudson, who was an elementary school classmate of defendant, had moved out of the home some years earlier to pursue a professional artistic career which would prove to be quite successful.
[¶5] Early on October 24, 2008, just prior to stopping by his wife's home, defendant, who had been " up all night" according to his counsel, asked a friend for help fixing his car's power steering, which was not working. The friend was unable to help at that time, but he used the meeting to buy a " dime bag" of crack cocaine from defendant, who was a dealer of the drug. While they were together, defendant told his customer that he was " dirty" (holding drugs) and that he had a gun on him. Defendant then changed from a hoody sweatshirt into a jacket and went to his wife's home, where he peered into her bedroom window as she was dressing before going to work. She allowed him in the house to talk while she continued to get ready for work. She noted that he smelled of alcohol. Around this time, they had been arguing about the fact that she was seeing somebody during the time of their separation. Defendant was known by many to be very agitated about this recent development, despite the fact that he was intimately involved with several other women during the same period of time.
[¶6] When Julia left the home, she locked the front door, leaving the three occupants by themselves. As she pulled away from the curb, defendant told her, " I saw your momma this morning." Defendant then lingered in his car near the home for a period of time before later going to a service station to buy power steering fluid for his ailing automobile. Shortly after Julia got to work, she saw a letter informing her about a wage garnishment owing to defendant's failure to pay a car loan in both of their names. This led to a cell phone call and argument. Evidence at trial also revealed that defendant, in the midst of numerous arguments with his wife, had repeatedly threatened to first kill her family and then her if she did not resume their marital relationship. Defendant also told people outside the family that he meant to do harm to his wife and/or members of her family, particularly her brother Jason, who was also a cocaine dealer and the object of considerable scorn from defendant, who openly mocked him because of his weight (nearly 500 pounds at autopsy). Defendant admitted stealing Jason's gun and was seen in possession of it only days before the murders.
[¶7] Sometime around 9 a.m., a bullet was fired through the front door of the Hudson home. Inside the home, Julia's mother was shot in the back. She walked farther into the house and was shot again, this time in the chest, landing on the living room floor. In a nearby bedroom, Jason was shot to death, apparently while still asleep. School was closed for some reason on this fall Friday and young Julian was somewhere in the house, padding around in two T-shirts, shorts and shower shoes. Jason's SUV was parked near the home. Around 10 a.m., defendant, dressed again in the hoody, appeared at Abdullah Smith's residence in the same neighborhood. According to Smith, defendant asked, " can you bust a move with me?" Smith declined as he was watching his children. This exchange was witnessed by a mutual friend, Michael Hurst, who said defendant asked Smith for assistance with his car.
[¶8] About four hours later, Julia returned home, having just received a text message from defendant in which he said he wanted to " get down" with her that night. As Julia approached the front door,
she saw the bullet hole, but noted that the door was still locked. She then unlocked the door, walked into the home and saw her mother's dead body on the floor. She ran screaming from the home and enlisted a young neighbor to go in the house to check on her mother, brother and son. The neighbor came out with the news that the young boy was nowhere to be found and that the other two were dead. Julia then called 911 and police descended upon South Yale Street where they soon confirmed that Julian was missing, along with Jason's white SUV.
[¶9] When asked if there was anybody who might want to harm her family, Julia immediately gave Chicago police department (CPD) officers Bryk and Casey the name of her estranged husband, who had made the aforementioned threats within the prior " week or two." Detective Nolan was given certain information, including defendant's cell phone number, the name of his girlfriend and her address, during the initial investigation. Detective Szudarski was told by a neighbor that he was aware of defendant stalking Julia at or near the house on occasion while also aware that defendant had " made comments that [he] was going to kill everyone in the house." Still other investigating police officers interviewed neighbors who reported hearing gunshots that came from the direction of the Hudson home shortly after 9 a.m. which did not alarm them because it was a relatively common occurrence in the Englewood neighborhood.
[¶10] During the initial hour of investigation, defendant called Julia, who was then standing with police outside her home, and said that he had been told about the shootings by a young female friend from the neighborhood. He said he was " up north" but was coming right over. Instead, he stayed on the west side at his girlfriend's house. Police would later learn that he spent some of this time trying to get somebody to move his car, which was stranded on the south side, to the west side and trying to create alibis for his whereabouts earlier in the day.
[¶11] While attempting to identify and locate the perpetrator of the apparent double homicide, CPD also had officers from its special victims unit on the scene, owing to Julian's absence from the family home. CPD Sergeant Washburn determined that defendant's cell carrier was Sprint. He then contacted that provider and asked them to use cell tower data in an effort to locate defendant, after they had issued an Amber Alert. The information provided by Sprint was consistent with " triangulation" that identified a cell tower at 18th and Kedzie, just blocks from the provided address of 1925 South Spaulding.
[¶12] Later that afternoon, more than a dozen police officers converged on defendant's girlfriend's residence and took him and his girlfriend, Shonta Cathey, into custody for questioning. Defendant attempted to flee and briefly resisted arrest. When taken into custody by Detective Sanchez, defendant was found to be in possession of his cell phone, some keys and a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) pass. Defendant and his girlfriend were taken into Area 1 for questioning. Defendant was interviewed on several occasions over a couple hours in which he freely gave his version of his activities for the day. He said he went directly from Diane Grant's home to his wife's residence, neglecting to mention that he took time out to sell some crack. He claimed that in the immediate aftermath of seeing his wife, his car broke down and he went to get power steering fluid. He then claimed to have parked the car around 8:30 near Robeson High School, located several blocks from the Hudson home, and then took the CTA to Cathey's home, using his CTA pass. Evidence
at trial would prove much of those claims false. He told police that he got to her home around 10 and that he had been there all day. That was disputed in at least two ways by Cathey. He tried to persuade police that the murders happened because Jason ran a " drug house," while telling police that Jason had enemies, that he had been shot and that the house had been burglarized while defendant was incarcerated a few months earlier. He was instructed to give police the shirt and pants he was wearing and defendant made a point to tell the detectives that he had been wearing those clothes " all day," a statement proved false by testimony and surveillance video at trial.
[¶13] Cathey was taken to an interrogation room where she initially supplied defendant with his alibi by claiming, at his request, that he had been at her home as early as 10 in the morning, but she eventually told police that he had actually arrived two hours later. She then spoke of his behavior in the hours before being arrested, which included changing items of his clothing while away from her home and his shocking, unsolicited statement that he had killed his mother-in-law and brother-in-law, while denying any knowledge of anything " bad" happening to his stepson, Julian, whom defendant said was " outside" at the time of the killings.
[¶14] The desperate, citywide search for the missing boy continued. Three days later, a west side resident, Lynette Williams, called police after seeing a white SUV parked near her home at 13th and Kolin that matched media reports related to the Hudson murders. She first remembered seeing the car the morning after the murders and her awareness of media reports over the weekend made her think it might be related. Inside the car, the investigating police could see a child's hand protruding from a shower curtain that covered his body, which lay dead on the floor of the car's backseat area. Forensic investigation revealed, among other things, a bullet hole through the floorboard suggesting an 80-degree angle of entry through the child's head and then the bottom of the car. Investigators also determined that the driver's seat was less than two feet from the brake pedal, which was inconsistent with its owner's enormous body habitus, while being entirely consistent with defendant's considerably smaller (5 feet 7 inches, 150 pounds) size. Helped by 90 probationary officers from the police academy, police conducted a massive foot search of the streets, alleys and yards between the vehicle's location and the apartment where defendant was apprehended, a distance estimated at two miles. Half of the team came from the vehicle's location while the other half came from the apartment. Each team searched an arm's-width apart. Just a half-block from the vehicle's location, the search revealed a gun that was identified by numerous witnesses as Jason Hudson's, whose ballistics matched the bullets that killed all three victims.
[¶15] The prosecution's case was built slowly and steadily over many days of trial before a Cook County jury. The evidence that inculpated defendant included his admissions to Cathey, along with bountiful circumstantial evidence culled from various witness accounts of threats made by defendant, cell phone records, defendant's CTA pass and various forensic " trace" results obtained by investigators. Prosecutors also produced testimony of witnesses who said they were contacted by defendant on the date of the murders and asked to provide him with an alibi or sketchy-sounding assistance of some sort. This ...