Jennifer Hudson moves in a protective bubble at murder trial
"When it comes to famous cases, everybody in this building knows how to do it now," Sullivan said. "Everybody has learned what works, and they're sticking with it."

Despite the heavy media interest, spectator turnout has been lower than many expected. Courthouse officials said they believe it's partly because of rules that require the public to sign up for seats the day before and partly because of the horrific nature of the case.

Prosecutors say Balfour fatally shot Hudson's mother, Darnell Donerson; brother Jason Hudson; and 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, in an act of spite against the singer's sister, Julia, then Balfour's estranged wife. The two had been separated for more than eight months at the time of the Oct. 24, 2008, slayings, and she had rejected his attempts at reconciliation.

The grizzly nature of the evidence gives the trial an entirely different tone from the R. Kelly case, which featured a sex tape and lacked a complaining witness. The crime scene and autopsy photos — which show all three victims shot multiple times — are so gruesome that Jennifer Hudson stayed out of the courtroom when they were shown to the jury.

Three women who signed up to watch Friday's proceedings acknowledged that they were there in part to see the Chicago star. But they said their main focus was to see justice, and they also wanted to let Hudson know she had the support of not just her family, but also the community.

"People have been respectful of the fact that this is a very tragic event in the life of the Hudson family," Mateck said. "The trial is not being treated as entertainment."

The public attendance, at times, has been as low as Hudson's intentionally downplayed profile. In the months leading up to the trial, she had declined interview requests about the case and not mentioned it on her social media accounts. She does not shill for public sympathy in the building like Blagojevich, who shook hands with everyone he encountered at the courthouse, or Michael Jackson, who danced atop his car to entertain onlookers.

Instead she and her entourage keep to themselves, almost never interacting with anyone else. She is accompanied each day by about a half-dozen security guards, most of whom wait quietly outside the courtroom during testimony.

Courthouse officials say Hudson and her entourage have not made any demands and have never been late to the trial.

The judge became upset Friday when a miscommunication allowed the Hudson sisters — who had briefly stepped out to avoid hearing a police officer testify about finding Julian's body — to enter the courtroom in the middle of a witness's testimony. Worried that it could distract the jury, Burns angrily called the attorneys from both sides into his chambers for a private conversation.

Hudson otherwise does little to draw attention to herself in court, opting to bow her head and stare at the floor when she hears upsetting testimony. On Friday, as the Hudson sisters walked by, Balfour's mother snapped, "Why the hell are they looking at me?" But neither sister reacted.

At the end of most days, Hudson looks visibly tired but shows no other outward signs of emotion.

"From what I've seen, she has been gracious to everyone," Sullivan said. "But she is like a girl in a balloon. No one really gets that close to her here."

sstclair@tribune.com

jmeisner@tribune.com