Justice, Gunman Found Guilty in Murder of Hadiya Pendleton

(Sun Times Wire) More than five years after Hadiya Pendleton was gunned down in a South Side park just a week after she attended President Barack Obama’s inauguration, jurors entered a guilty verdict against the man who pulled the trigger.

Micheail Ward, 24, showed no reaction as the court clerk read off a guilty verdict for first-degree murder in Pendleton’s killing. He was also convicted of two counts of aggravated battery after two of her King College Prep classmates were wounded as they fled the hail of bullets Ward fired at the group as they crowded under a park shelter on a rainy winter afternoon.

Pendleton’s mother, Cleo Cowley Pendleton, and father, Nathaniel Pendleton, bowed their heads slightly as the verdict was read.

Addressing reporters in the courthouse lobby after the verdict, Cowley Pendleton said the twin guilty verdicts were a relief after years of trips to the courthouse.

“My arms were raised yesterday and my tears today are because I feel like finally something positive in our life has happened as a result of our daughter being gone,” she said, her eyes streaming with tears. “There’s justice for Hadiya, because she did not deserve that. She did not live a life like that.

“We would rather have Hadiya, but the fact that we have justice for her life being taken, we’ll take it.”

“It’s surreal,” Nathaniel Pendleton said. “It’s something we’ve been waiting on for over five years.” Her killers, he said, “got what they deserved.”

A separate jury on Wednesday found Kenneth Williams, 25, guilty of being the getaway driver in the crime.

Ward was 18 when he was arrested just hours after Pendleton’s funeral in 2013 and charged along with Williams. The arrest came after a weeklong hunt for suspects in a killing that had taken place in broad daylight at a park less than a mile from the Kenwood home of Obama. First Lady Michelle Obama attended Pendleton’s funeral, and her murder became a symbol of the city’s struggle with violence.

Outlining the case against Ward Thursday in closing arguments, Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Brian Holmes conceded that the prosecution did not have a “perfect case,” that there was no murder weapon or physical evidence and witness statements conflicted.

“There’s no law that says we have to present a perfect case,” Holmes said, his voice rising. “It’s not a perfect world. In a perfect world, 15-year-old girls wouldn’t get shot in the back in the middle of a park.”

The case against Ward was largely circumstantial — no murder weapon was found, and witness identifications of the gunman were all tentative — but for his videotaped confession.

Before trial, his lawyers had battled to block his account of the shooting from being played for jurors, claiming that detectives who interrogated Ward browbeat him into making a false confession during an interrogation that included several hours of questioning during a 12-hour span.

When the confession was admitted as evidence, Ward’s attorneys fought to have more than four hours of the questioning played, rather that the few minutes where Ward confessed to the shooting.

In her closing statement, Assistant Public Defender Gina Piemonte said that media attention prompted police to quickly settle on Ward and Williams as suspects, tying thin leads into a narrative they fleshed out with statements from members of a gang that operated near the South Side park where Pendleton was shot.

“There was real real pressure on the police to solve the crime, and solve it quickly,” Piemonte said.

Prosecutors have said that Ward and Williams were members of the SUWU faction of the Gangster Disciples, a small band that had been shooting it out over span of months with the 4-6 Terror gang that frequented Harsh Park. Pendleton and a group of classmates had gone to the park after finishing final exams at King, and had ducked under a shelter there to take cover from the rain.

Williams, who had been shot six months earlier by a 4-6 Terror member, was driving Ward’s white Nissan into an alley, where, prosecutors said, he handed Ward a gun. The gunman opened fire on the group of the King students, who scattered. Pendleton stumbled and fell a block away, and died an hour later of a gunshot wound to the back.

Pendleton’s classmates had given equivocal identifications of Ward in lineups and photo arrays in the days after the shooting, though several seemed more confident in picking out Ward as the gunman at trial some five years later.

Alleged fellow gang members who took the stand for the prosecution suffered the opposite problem. After giving lengthy statements to detectives and testifying before the grand jury in 2013, at trial the SUWU gang members called by the state said they did not recall the statements they made implicating Ward and Williams in the shooting.

A lifelong friend of Ward’s, and member of the same gang faction to which Ward allegedly belonged, testified that several times in the days after the shooting, Ward admitted he had fired the shots that killed Pendleton and injured two of her King College Prep classmates. In those statements, Ward, then 18, also confessed to remorse.

Article Org: Chicago.suntimes.com

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