Schmich: Hudson family home stands in a neighborhood of despair

"That house like sacred ground," he said.

I asked the man if he knew anything about Jennifer's brother, Jason.

Three and a half years ago, when I visited the Hudson place, when the teddy bears and balloons outside were still as fresh as the grief, some of Jason's friends had come by to mourn him. They recalled him as a master griller, and as a tough basketball player, before he got shot and had to walk with a cane.

They said he mostly kept out of trouble, which in this neighborhood can mean little more than staying out of prison and staying alive. Now William Balfour's attorneys are suggesting that his big-time drug dealing led to the murders.

The man just shook his head, shaking away the questions.

"You probably never been in this lifestyle," he said, amiably enough. "There certain things people just don't talk about."

Across the street, cater-cornered from the Hudson place, Kamarion Omari, 17, was sitting on his mom's car, skipping school.

"I was up all night, thinking about life," he said. "About my brother and what I wants to see in life, what I'm going to do with myself."

Two months ago, his brother was shot to death, at the age of 14, in their apartment by one of his autistic teenage brothers, in what police say appears to have been an accident.

Jennifer Hudson came by afterward, he said.

"She gave my mama some gifts."

The TV trucks came for his brother's death, too, just like they'd come on Monday to film the Hudson place for a story on the trial.

Now he was sitting in the sun, thinking about how he might get off this block, out of this lifestyle, like Jennifer Hudson did.

"Standing out here'll get you killed or in jail," he said. "I ain't with that."

Jennifer Hudson is one of the lucky ones. She escaped a fate that to many people in many Chicago neighborhoods feels inescapable. But even she couldn't avoid the harm.