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Hadiyah Pendleton trial starts five years after her death

Crusader Staff Report

The trial involving the alleged killers of Hadiyah Pendleton finally began Monday, August 13, nearly five years after the fatal shooting of the honor student, whose death called attention to Chicago’s spiraling gun violence.

It was an emotional day as the prosecutors made opening arguments in a packed courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California, where Pendleton’s mother Cleopatra Pendleton, clad in all black, and father Nathaniel and family members were among numerous people attending the proceedings that got off to a dramatic start.

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Kenneth Williams and Micheail Ward

They waited years to see Micheail Ward and Kenneth Williams brought to justice after they were charged with multiple counts of first degree murder for killing Pendleton at Harsh Park in Kenwood on January 29, 2013.

The two men initially told police that Pendleton was an unintended target who was with friends that were mistaken to be rival gang members. In a recorded video confession, Ward said he drove to a friend’s house after the murder and cried because he felt Williams pressured him before he fired bullets in the park. Ward’s lawyers maintain that his confession was coerced. Williams, a powerful gang member, drove Ward to the park killing. Williams and Ward were arrested two weeks after Pendleton was killed.

Two separate juries will decide Williams’ and Ward’s fate.

The killing came one week after Pendleton, a student at King College Prep in Bronzeville, performed in the inauguration ceremonies to usher in the second term of former President Barack Obama. First lady Michelle Obama attended Pendleton’s funeral, that turned out to be an emotional farewell to the teenager.

The case took years to make its way through Cook County’s overburdened courts, where 600 pending murder cases are sitting in files. After two years of handling Ward’s case, his attorney withdrew from the case, forcing a court-appointed attorney from the public defender’s office to start the case all over again. There were also numerous motions and delays that added months to pre-trial hearings.

With gun violence and a high number of unsolved murders still a problem in Chicago, the trial involving Pendleton’s alleged killers took center stage on Monday with a dramatic opening argument from Assistant State’s Attorney Barbara Hawkins. She described the moment when Pendleton’s classmate, Klyn Jones held her hand as she bled to death with a gunshot wound in her back as they took shelter from the rain at Harsh Park.

“What they didn’t know was that while that shelter could shield them from the rain, it could not shield them from the plan of this defendant,” Hawkins said as she pointed to Ward.

Then came Jones’ testimony on the witness stand. Her statements revisited the final moments of her friend’s life following the fatal shooting. As students scattered for safety after shots rang out, Jones said she noticed that Pendleton slowed down, grabbed her chest and said “I think I got shot.”

“I said, ‘stop playing, we have to go’,” Jones recalled.

Pendleton then collapsed to the ground.

Prosecutors then played the 911 recording of a dispatch call where Jones can be heard saying “Oh my God.”

Reputed SUWU gang member Ernest Finer on the witness stand said he didn’t remember anything about a detailed statement he gave prosecutors, or his testimony before a grand jury after the shooting.

Ronald Evans, a neighbor who saw a man with a gun running from Harsh Park after the shooting, said the shooter was wearing “a weird blue color.” Evans’ description matched the color of the sweatshirt that prosecutors had shown him earlier in court.

In their opening statements, attorneys for Ward and Williams argued that there is no gunshot residue, DNA or fingerprints from the shooter that links the shooting with the defendants.

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