One of two men charged in the 2013 death of a 15-year-old high school honor student who became a national symbol of Chicago gun violence was found guilty Wednesday of first-degree murder.
Kenneth Williams, 25, was accused of being the getaway driver on the afternoon when Hadiya Pendleton was shot to death as she and several other students visited a park at the end of a school day. He was also convicted of aggravated battery in the wounding of two others.
Prosecutors said Williams’ co-defendant, Micheail Ward, actually fired the shots that killed Pendleton just days after she performed as a majorette with her high school band at President Barack Obama’s inauguration festivities.
Two separate juries were empaneled to hear the cases against Ward and Williams. The juries were swapped in and out of the courtroom as evidence was offered in one case or the other.
In closing arguments, Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Holmes told the jury that he was just as culpable in Pendleton’s death as the alleged gunman.
“Williams is responsible and accountable for his own actions as well as responsible and accountable for the actions of Ward,” he told jurors. “In the eyes of the law his hand is on that trigger.”
Williams’ lawyer, Matthew McQuaid, argued the jurors should not be swayed by emotion.
McQuaid said many prosecution witnesses were under pressure to testify, making their testimony unreliable.
“They’re saying whatever they have to say to get out of the police station,” he argued.
Some of the witnesses who testified at trial disputed their previous grand jury testimony in which they implicated the two suspects.
Prosecutors presented a video recording of Ward confessing to police. Early on, Ward can be seen denying shooting into the park and a detective continuously accusing him of lying. At one point, Det. John Murray reminded Ward that Michelle Obama attended Pendleton’s funeral. An attorney for Ward, Gina Piemonte, noted the detectives raised their voices, swore and occasionally got physically close to Ward.
Williams’ lawyer called one witness in his defense. Gang expert Lance Williams contended police had no evidence proving the shooting was gang related.
Lawyers for Ward completed their case as the jury that heard the case against Williams deliberated. After the defense rested and the jury was excused, the presiding judge asked Ward if he will testify on his own behalf.
“Nah, I’m not going to testify,” he answered.
During the trial, prosecutors told jurors what has become a familiar story in Chicago: Gang feuds that turn deadly when members of one rival gang open fire, not worried about anybody else, not children riding their bikes, people sitting on their porches or, on this day, high school students sitting in a park laughing and talking with each other after final exams.
As if to underline their point, the trial began the same week in which bullets fired in two neighborhoods pierced two homes, one finding and killing a woman as she sat on her couch and the other injuring a woman while she slept in her bed.