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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Triple Homicide Case against William Balfour -- May 18, 2012

Last Friday, William Balfour was convicted of killing 3 members of singer and actress Jennifer Hudson's family. At the time, I was not aware who Jennifer Hudson was and I still only have a vague idea. However, amongst black inmates at Stateville, she is a famous celebrity who grew up in the ghetto of Chicago. Many of the prisoners in the penitentiary are from the same impoverished gang-ridden neighborhood of Englewood on the south side of the city or are well acquainted with it. I rarely watch local Chicago news and thus missed much of the vast coverage of Balfour's arrest, trial and conviction. I did not even care to acquaint myself with the case until Tuesday when I learned James McKay, the same person who prosecuted me, was the lead Assistant States Attorney who argued Balfour's guilt. Although I cannot give an opinion if Balfour committed the triple homicide, the high profile case, pressure to gain a conviction, and McKay's record of using unscrupulous tactics makes me skeptical of whether the defendant was given a fair trial.

I learned James McKay was the prosecuting attorney only after calling my attorney on Tuesday. I do not bother to call Jennifer often because, as my appeal has dragged on for years, it has become apparent to me she is not motivated any more. Since the beginning, I gave her a list of all my appellate issues as well as all the affidavits I need to be secured to support these and a claim of actual innocence. I have even provided her with a list of cases and arguments of law supporting my appeal. I would have simply just filed the successive post conviction appeal myself, but there are things I cannot do from inside these prison walls. Also, I know I will not be competent sparring with the prosecutor over technicalities once a judge takes jurisdiction of the case. The prosecutor will file a myriad of assaults on my appeal to prevent the issues from ever being heard in an evidentiary hearing. There is a misconception the system is unfair because skillful defense attorneys use technicalities to have their clients acquitted. However, these technicalities are used more often by the prosecutors to prevent justice from prevailing.

Regularly, I hear prisoners' names called over the loud speaker for legal calls. Also when I was in a cell on the ground floor across from the holding cage, I would see inmates waiting for the counselor to come to the cell house and place an unmonitored call in the sergeant's office. These calls are set up in advance by an attorney to speak to their client who is in prison at a specific time. All phone calls in the IDOC are subject to monitoring and are recorded and stored possibly indefinitely for review by prison security staff or the prosecutor's office. However, because I am innocent and have nothing to hide, I just use the regular phones which are on the galleries for inmates to use. When I am particularly bothered by the lack of progress in my case, I will give Jennifer a call.

Jennifer is a very friendly and personable attorney, however, I am long past pleasantries. I want to discuss my appeal and why it is not being diligently worked on. She told me she was having difficulties writing the Statement of Fact. A Statement of Fact is merely an introduction and overview of your appeal. She began to explain certain nuances in presentation I did not care to listen to. I am a very proficient writer and told her just to send me what she had and I will review and write it. A year ago, Jennifer told me she was working on the opening with the help of a recent college law graduate. At that time, I was told she would send me what was written, but I never received it.

The writing of the Statement of Fact seemed premature to me because the investigative work has not been completed. Thus, I went over a litany of people who I think she or a P.I. should speak to. My attorney asked me about a paralegal who had briefly been visiting me, as well as others who had contacted me and offered to help. Most of these people had been insincere or were not helpful. Appellate attorneys should have working relationships with private investigators, especially those who do post convictions. When I expressed my great disappointment that she has not done much lately, she said she obtained another affidavit for me.

My attorney on occasion reads my blog. After mentioning doing so, I said, "So, you are the one sending me the hate mail." She said she would never do that and asked what it was relating to. I told her it seemed homosexuals and radical left wing crusaders did not appreciate some of my posts. Many people cannot tell when I am attempting to be humorous because it often comes off flat or is said in a serious tone. Because of this, I will sometimes use it to see how a person responds, and considering Jennifer's lack of motivation and liberal politics, I thought it would be amusing to make the accusation. After hearing enough of her defending herself, I told her I was just joking. She did not like it and I suppose most people do not or even recognize it as my attempt at humor.

Before Jennifer went into private practice, she worked as a Public Defender in Cook County. She still maintains a number of contacts at the office and from what I was told the predominate conversation amongst lawyers recently was the triple homicide conviction against William Balfour. Balfour was represented by four public defenders, despite Illinois not having a death penalty anymore. Amy Thompson was the lead defense attorney and was assisted by Cynthia Brown, Scott Kozicki and Edward Kozibaski. I was surprised the Cook County Public Defenders Office was able to extend so much manpower. However, what surprised me the most was my attorney's revelation that my former trial prosecutor, James McKay, was the lead Asst. State's Attorney on the case. With an unscrupulous, zealot prosecutor like "Mad Dog McKay," the defense better have a full team of lawyers.

Since my call with my attorney, I have been trying to learn everything I can about the trial and conviction of William Balfour. However, it has not been easy because the majority of the news coverage is over. I caught a few television news bits, but learned the majority of my facts from old Chicago Tribune articles which I consider the most reliable journalism in the city and metropolitan area. On Wednesday, my mother brought a few papers with her when she visited. The sergeant at the front desk of the visitor waiting room would not accept a corporate report she brought, but did accept the Tribune newspapers. Inmates are permitted to receive any type of publication brought by visitors including books, magazines and papers. However, the sergeant wanted to distinguish these from an annual report of a corporation. He must either be asinine or intentionally being an ass and I hope my mother files a complaint.

The murders occurred 3-1/2 years ago on October 24, 2008. Jennifer Hudson's mother, Darnell Donerson, brother Jason Hudson, and 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, were reportedly killed by William Balfour out of his rage over his estranged wife, Jennifer Hudson's sister, Julia, dating another man. Julia found Jason Hudson and Darnell Donerson shot to death at their home, but the boy was abducted and discovered dead in Jason's SUV a few days later on Chicago's west side. A triple homicide is always big news, even in Chicago where there are hundreds of murders annually particularly in the gang areas of the city. However, what made this case intensely and nationally covered was its relation to the famous singer and Oscar winning actress. Much of the newspapers and television news I saw focused on Jennifer Hudson, although she was not directly correlated to the case and had limited testimony to offer the prosecution.

The small group of inmates I speak with knew little or nothing about Jennifer Hudson or the murders. However, the African-Americans at Stateville were well acquainted with the subject matter. Many of them, including my cellmate, voiced their belief that Balfour could not receive a fair trial due to the sympathy the public had for the celebrity. Although I did not pay nearly as much attention to the case as they did, I tend to believe most Caucasians and Hispanics knew little about Jennifer Hudson, let alone were fans of hers. The jurors who convicted the defendant were a diverse group who came from all over the southwest portion of Cook County. In my perspective, there were more things which could, and possibly did, prejudice them.

Although the judge acts as an arbitrator in the U.S. criminal justice system, he or she can have a significant impact on the evidence a jury is allowed to see. They are not always fair and impartial referees, especially in high profile cases. Judges are elected and thus political pressure comes to bear to make rulings that are popular with their constituents even if it goes against the law, the Constitution, or the principles of justice. For example, my trial judge explicitly told my attorney not to choose a bench trial because, although he believed the prosecutor lacked evidence to convict me, he did not want to handle the hot potato. Sam Amirante also said that if I was convicted, he would be forced to render a severe sentence to satisfy the public. I do not personally know about the integrity of the judge who presided over the Balfour triple murder case in Markham or if he had as large of political ambitions, but I do know before he became a judge, Charles Burns was a prosecutor for nearly two decades. This can warp the perspective of a judge in favor of the state.

Interestingly, while watching news coverage of the case, I heard my cellmate murmur something. Bobby does not regularly speak and when he does, he typically mumbles in an inarticulate fashion. I figured he was just griping that Balfour should have been acquitted, but when I took off my headphones, I learned he was rather muttering about the Criminal Court's Judge Charles Burns. He told me that in the 1980's Burns was the felony review officer at Chicago's infamous Area 3 headquarters where convicted police investigator Jon Burge worked. Burns, apparently, approved of Greylord Johnson's arrest for murder and I seem to get the impression my cellmate blames Burns for allowing Burge to abuse and torture suspects. The combination of Judge Burns and prosecutor James McKay undoubtedly created a framework which was heavily slanted against the defendant.

James McKay is one of the most immoral and malfeasant prosecutors in the Cook County States Attorney's Office and has been reprimanded by the courts on multiple occasions. This prosecutor does not care about truth, justice, or the innocence-guilt of a defendant. All he cares about is winning and will employ whatever tactics are necessary to do so, even if it means overstepping the law or sending an innocent man to prison indefinitely. Some people may believe that in the adversarial U.S. justice system, McKay is to be admired. Still others may want defendants to always be convicted regardless of the evidence, and respect a prosecutor who gets the job done even if he has to get his hands a little dirty. There are surprisingly many people who like Nancy Grace and her always hostile, one sided, and sensationalistic rhetoric. If Grace was not married, she and McKay probably would make a good couple because they both have the same disposition and perspective that everyone is guilty. However, unlike those who support such a mentality, I believe the prosecutor is a state official whose job is not merely to get convictions, but justice.

The Asst. State's Attorney is not nicknamed "James Mad Dog McKay" without good reason amongst his colleagues. The prosecutor can be very hostile, abrasive and aggressive in the court room. He will go after a defendant with the ferocity of a mad dog. He is unscrupulous, tenacious and driven with a wild zeal, despite the lack of evidence or rationale. What he lacks in proof, he will make up for with enormous irrelevant filler and what he lacks in reason, he will make up for with overwhelming emotion. For example, in the Balfour case, he put on 80 witnesses and I doubt 10 had any significance. In my dual trial with my co-defendant, he produced almost a month's worth of testimony, the vast majority against me was empty filler. He even called defense witnesses as state witnesses as a strategy and to pad his case including calling my mother, cousin and my co-defendant's wife, Rose, who told the jury her husband was trying to frame me for the murder and that he returned home covered in blood that night. A friend of mine was also called to testify that it was Faraci, and not me, who expressed a desire to kill Fawcett. McKay even used a long cart stacked with files to place in front of the jury box every day. On the front of the cart in bold letters was my name to suggest or give the impression that there was this huge amount of evidence against me, rather than just one lying cop.

The only way James McKay is able to get away with not putting a jury to sleep is with his theatrics and inflammatory language and abrasive tone. When his arguments and evidence do not add up, he simply appeals to jurors' emotions. He will also lie and manipulate the law or evidence to suit his needs in the most dramatic fashions. I still recall the prosecutor in closing arguments in my case saying, "All for one and one for all. The actions of one are the actions of all" to imply that I was like a Three Musketeer and was guilty by association. The prosecutor was not able to prove I was at the crime scene, but this did not prevent him from arguing I was "guilty in spirit" as the judge would even later ridicule at sentencing. There was no murder weapon and the cause of death is debatable, but according to the prosecutor my fingerprints were all over it, metaphorically. McKay would repeatedly attack my character or use images of a dead body ravaged by animals after weeks in the woods, although this had no relevance to my guilt. A "Mad Dog" does not need facts or a motive, he just passionately hurls malign accusations and inferences at a defendant.

Researching the Balfour triple murder trial, I sought to learn the motive the prosecutor used. The defendant was accused of killing his wife's mother, brother, and her nephew out of rage when he saw Julia Hudson received Sweetest Day balloons from a new boyfriend. This seems odd to me, because all of the prisoners I met who have had a falling out with their wives kill them, the new lover, or both. A family member is only killed if they are a witness or collateral damage. Also strange is the fact that, although the defendant and his wife were living apart and she had a new boyfriend, they continued to see each other romantically. Julia even admitted having sexual relations with Balfour the week of the murders. Furthermore, Balfour also had another girlfriend, leading me to believe it was a casual relationship. The possibility of someone else killing Jason Hudson, then the mother and boy over gang or drug hostilities is not far-fetched when someone knows the victim was a drug dealer and gang member in an extremely dangerous high crime area of Chicago. From my understanding, however, the jury was not so interested in motive, but evidence. In a Tribune article I read, jurors were described as putting together a jigsaw puzzle during their three days of deliberations. With so many pieces missing though, I wonder how they were able to come to a definitive conclusion.

The case against Balfour was circumstantial and there were no eye witnesses, a confession, or even forensics, despite his arrest only hours after the shootings occurred. The evidence consisted of a few people of Hudson's own family testifying the defendant made threats. The murder weapon, a 45 caliber pistol owned by Jason Hudson, was recovered but there was no link Balfour had possession of it. A couple of people testified the defendant told them to lie about his whereabouts at the time of the murders, including his girlfriend, at whose residence he was arrested. Plus, Balfour's own story that he left Englewood to West Chicago via the CTA, Chicago's interlocking train network, contradict records from his train fare card and cellphone. Apparently, the card was not used, and triangulated cellphone "pings" place him in the neighborhood at the time gun shots were heard, although ignored and not reported because there were so many of them. Then there was a jailhouse snitch who testified he confessed, a highly unlikely scenario in my opinion. The key to jurors' decision was literally a key Balfour was found in possession of. The key was to Jason Hudson's SUV where the body of the boy was found. This is highly incriminating, but I can find plausible reasons he may have it, considering his relationship with the family and that he lived in the home for a period of time.

On the yard today, I asked several black inmates if they thought Balfour was guilty. They, and others I overheard talking about the case, believed he was not, except for one. Jug Head, a large muscular prisoner with a Hitler mustache and beard told me the key and trail of phone cookie crumbs definitely made him guilty. Since I was not able to review all the evidence of the case and only recently began to critically look at news reports, I cannot give an opinion of whether he is guilty or innocent. However, from what I have learned, I am skeptical the prosecutor proved his case "beyond a reasonable doubt." The question of reasonable doubt is all that matters once all the subterfuge and bias is eliminated.

William Balfour will be sentenced to natural life without the possibility of parole. This is the only punishment he can receive under Illinois law for multiple homicides since the death penalty was eliminated. There will be a redundant sentencing hearing though so the judge can give consecutive or concurrent terms of life as well as a term of years for home invasion, armed robbery, and kidnapping, all of which Balfour was convicted of. No one can serve more than their entire life in prison, so it is a rather ludicrous formality of due process. Considering there are only two maximum-security prisons in Illinois, there is a good chance I will see him at Stateville soon. Regardless, those who are condemned to languish in prison the rest of their lives eventually have contact. Hopefully, his appeals go better than mine and if he is innocent, he is released eventually. Although I have nothing in common with the black gang banger from the slums of Chicago, because of his prosecution by James McKay I think of the saying "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". Furthermore, I loathe injustice such as has occurred to me, even in the stark contrast of backgrounds of men I meet in the penitentiary.