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Trial to begin Tuesday for two men charged with Hadiya Pendleton’s murder

Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in January 2013. | Associated Press photo/Courtesy of Damon Stewart

The trial of two men charged with the 2013 murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton is set to begin Tuesday –– more than five years after the teenager was gunned down in a South Side park.

Jury selection concluded Monday, with a panel of nine men and two women chosen to hear evidence against Micheail Ward. Only one of those jurors is African American.

In stark contrast with the attention paid to the case in the aftermath of Pendleton’s death, only one prospective juror questioned — a woman who was not picked — said she was familiar with the details of the case.

Kenneth Williams (left) and Micheail Ward are charged in the January 2013 fatal shooting of 15-year-old student Hadiya Pendleton just days after she performed with her high school band at then-President Barack Obama’s inaugural festivities. Jury selection
Kenneth Williams (left) and Micheail Ward are charged in the January 2013 fatal shooting of 15-year-old student Hadiya Pendleton just days after she performed with her high school band at then-President Barack Obama’s inaugural festivities. Jury selection in their trial began Friday. | Cook County Sheriff’s Office photos, distributed by the Associated Press

Pendleton, an honor student who had attended festivities in Washington D.C. marking Barack Obama’s second inauguration, was shot in an apparent case of mistaken identity when Ward allegedly sprayed a volley of shots at a group of teens gathered under a shelter inside Harsh Park.

Two other teens, slated to be called as witnesses, were wounded.

Ward and co-defendant Kenneth Williams were arrested the day of Pendleton’s funeral.

Pendleton’s death was mentioned later that year in Obama’s State of the Union address, in a plea for gun control legislation, and Chicago native Michelle Obama attended the teen’s funeral.

A separate jury for Williams was selected last week.

Outside the Cook County Judge Nicholas Ford’s courtroom Monday, Ward’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler said the pressure on police to close an case that was receiving national attention led detectives to focus on her client and Williams.

A white Nissan was spotted driving away from the scene by witnesses, and police identified Ward as a suspect after finding his white Sentra had been stopped nearby a few days earlier.

“Two days into this investigation, they decided that because Michaeil had a white car, and a couple of the witnesses said they saw the shooter get into a white car, well, then he must be the shooter,” Koehler said.

Investigators never recovered the murder weapon, and no video captures the shooting. Several witnesses have said Williams told them he and Ward had “done a drill” — committed a shooting — but, Koehler said, those witnesses are parolees who were threatened with jail time, and have since recanted their statements to police.

Ward confessed to police, but Koehler will play four hours of his 17-hour interrogation for jurors, highlighting what she says are psychologically coercive methods they used to feed the 19-year-old a version of events to repeat back to them.

Parts of the trial will be videotaped and photographed.