by Josh Grossberg | Mon., Apr. 9, 2012 1:09 PM
This has got to be the toughest gig of Jennifer Hudson's life.
Jury selection kicked off Monday in the Chicago murder trial of William Balfour, the singer's brother-in-law who allegedly shot and killed her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew during a rampage in October 2008.
But with news that Hudson plans to attend every day of what's likely to be a three-week court drama, legal experts say her star power could play a key role in the proceedings—but not necessarily for the better.
With more than 150 would-be jurors being interviewed today by Chicago prosecutors and defense attorneys who will then whittle them down to 12, there's concern that the 30-year-old Oscar winner's presence could be a distraction for the panel once each side finishes with opening statements and gets down to the business of calling witnesses.
"Her presence at the trial could have a huge impact," criminal defense attorney Troy Slaten, who does not represent any of the parties in the Hudson case, tells E! News.
The legal eagle adds that Hudson will most likely sit with family members behind the prosecutor, which will be next to the jury box so the jury will have a clear view of Hudson's reactions.
"Star power always matters. The prosecutor wants her there and the defense does not want her there," says Slaten. "The jury could be looking at her reactions, if she is crying, how she reacts to certain testimony. They are going to be very aware of her presence."
But the challenge of ensuring a fair trial is another matter. Hence, when a number of prospective jurors saw the court questionnaire from Cook County Judge Charles Burn, nine out of 66 questions focused exclusively on Hudson and her stellar career.
For instance, one question asked potential panelists if they had ever seen her in the movie Dreamgirls, while another quizzed them on whether they were a member of an organization for which Hudson serves as a spokeswoman (hint: Weight Watchers, which she's promoted since April 2010). Still more inquired as to whether they had seen her on American Idol or watched a TV interview with her.
Given her celebrity status, Slaten points out that there is a potential downside to Hudson's sheer presence, as her emotions "could cause a mistrial," but "it is a risk worth taking."
It will be up to his honor to make sure the jurors who do get picked can set aside their biases, ignore the fact that there's a celebrity is in their midst and render a verdict objectively.
Balfour—an ex-con who once served seven years in the big house for attempted murder, vehicular hijacking and possession of a stolen vehicle—stands accused of killing Hudson's 57-year-old mother, Darnell Donerson, her 29-year-old brother, Jason Hudson, and her nephew Julian King.
E! News has confirmed that the entertainer's name is included on a list of 300 potential witnesses, so it's possible she could take the stand.
However, whether she'll actually do so is still an open question. If she does, cameras have been banned from the courtroom so we'll have to settle for an artist's sketch rendering or paparazzi shots from outside the courthouse.
A rep for Hudson could not be reached for comment on the matter.
The diva, meanwhile, is slated to return for a guest appearance on American Idol, the show that launched her to stardom, this Thursday.
—Reporting by Baker Machado
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