Jennifer Hudson moves in a protective bubble at murder trial
Stepping off the elevator in stiletto boots and a black skirt, Jennifer Hudson draws a few sideways glances as she walks with her entourage to a Cook County courtroom where her former brother-in-law is standing trial in the killings of her mother, brother and nephew.

Not a single onlooker, however, says a word or tries to approach her. No one even offers a sympathetic smile.

Hudson's protective bubble remains unpierced inside the courtroom, where only three members of the public have waited in line that day to watch the proceedings. She takes a seat in the fourth row and bows her head.

In a courthouse known for its grittiness and lack of decorum, Hudson is given rare deference. People have largely left her alone during the first week of the high-profile trial, going so far as to stay out of the courtroom on most days and resisting the urge to snap pictures of her with their cellphones.

Even two groups of star-struck high school girls who attended Friday's proceedings kept their distance.

County employees had worried about a more chaotic scene with a media frenzy and public fawning greater than even those shown at the Rod Blagojevich or R. Kelly trials.

Those concerns, however, have not yet materialized thanks to Hudson's intentionally low-profile, the judge's strict courtroom rules and the public's apparent willingness to give Hudson some space.

"I wouldn't bother her," said Channelle Jones, who saw Hudson while she waited for a friend's case to be called in another courtroom. "The girl has been through enough. She doesn't need people all in her face."

Jones is one of the few people who have seen Hudson outside the courtroom. Except for the brief moments when she walks from the elevators to a secluded waiting area each day, the Academy Award-winning actress does not mix with the general public.

Prosecutors planned it like this to keep their most famous — and most sympathetic — witness away from the spotlight during the proceedings. They have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect her, including driving her to the courthouse each morning and allowing her to enter through a back door.

Hudson rides a private elevator to the fifth floor each morning, then waits in a small conference room adjacent to the courtroom for testimony to begin. At the midday break, she returns to the same conference room, where she eats a lunch brought in by someone in her entourage. If she needs a bathroom break, security guards clear the restroom so she can have some privacy.

She does not enter or exit through the courthouse lobby each day like Blagojevich or Kelly did in their trials, preventing daily photographs or videos of her to stoke the public's interest. No mainstream media have snapped a photo of Hudson at the courthouse, though not for lack of trying. Photographers staked out alternative entrances to the courthouse on the first day of testimony, with one news agency placing a deer stand along 26th Street in the hope of getting a shot of her coming in through the back door.

"Is the state taking extreme measures to protect her? I think I would do the same thing if I was a prosecutor in this case," says Terry Sullivan, a former Cook County assistant state's attorney who is serving as the judge's media liaison during the trial. "That's the difference between a celebrity defendant and a celebrity who is a victim."

Prosecutors are not the only ones taking extreme measures. Fearing a carnival-like atmosphere similar to those at Michael Jackson's child-abuse trial or Casey Anthony's murder case, Judge Charles Burns established a firm set of decorum rules and required the more than 100 credentialed reporters covering the trial to sign it before being admitted into his courtroom.

His rules include a ban on tweeting and denying entrance to journalists who had not checked in with the media liaison 15 minutes before the day's session. He demonstrated his tight-fisted control over the media during the first week by kicking out a TV reporter whose cellphone rang as the jury was being shown gruesome crime-scene photos.

Two days later, another TV reporter was thrown out after Burns complained that she was chewing on her pen, typing on her phone too much and did not immediately stand when the jury entered. Other journalists spoke with the judge the following morning and the reporter was allowed back in later that day.

"There were a few hiccups," said Penny Mateck, spokeswoman for the Cook County sheriff's office, which oversees courthouse security. "But as the week has gone on, things have been going smoothly."

Cook County has handled large cases before, and Burns' rules largely reflect the playbook used during the R. Kelly trial and Brown's Chicken murder trials. In everything from media credentialing to transporting jurors from an off-site parking location, the logistical arrangements have been almost identical. The proceedings are being held in the same courtroom.

The past cases — which went relatively smoothly amid heavy public interest — made holding the William Balfour trial easier, Sullivan said.