clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UPDATED: Hadiya Pendleton murder trial adds more reluctant gang member testimony

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

Medical Examiner testifies: ‘A healthy young girl’

When the trial resumed in the afternoon, prosecutors called assistant Cook County Medical Examiner Lauren Woertz to the stand — and showed Hadiya Pendleton’s autopsy photos to the jury.

Pendleton’s mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, sat still as her daughter’s dead face appeared on a screen in the courtroom. Some family members placed their hands on others’ backs in a comforting gesture. Tissues were passed around. Jurors sat stone-faced, staring at the screen.

Woertz testified that Pendleton died from a gunshot wound to her back. She said the bullet traveled upward through Pendleton’s body and out her chest.

“She was a young, healthy girl,” Woertz said.

‘I do a lot of drugs, ma’am’: memory problems afflict gang members

Amnesia continues to afflict alleged members of the SUWU street gang as the second day of testimony begins in the trial of two men charged with the 2013 murder of Hadiya Pendleton.

Two members called as prosecution witnesses offered “I don’t remember” or “I don’t recall” in response to most questions leveled by prosecutors trying to build the case against alleged SUWUs Micheail Ward and Kenneth Williams. The missing memories extended to their testimony before the grand jury five years ago, and made for a mostly dull three hours in the courtroom, save for a few humorous exchanges.

Jerod Randolph, who told a grand jury that Ward had confessed to shooting Pendleton and expressed remorse— on five to six occasions— in the days after Pendleton’s death, said Wednesday he didn’t remember hearing any such statements from his fellow SUWU. Unlike his fellow SUWUs, who all have proved less talkative on the witness stand than they did while being interrogated by police and prosecutors in 2013, Randolph at least offered a reason for his spotty recall.

“I do a lot of drugs, ma’am,” Randolph offered when Ward’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler, cross-examined him. Randolph volunteered that he took the prescription painkillers Percocet and codeine when asked to elaborate.

Koehler offered an alternate reason for Randolph’s memory lapses: fear of perjury charges if he contradicted his statements to the grand jury, statements he made after, Koehler said, police threatened to lock him up for violating his parole for a gun charge.

Randolph’s cross-examination grew more tense as he stood next to Koehler as they watched the low-production value music video for a drill rap song called “Scary Movie,” filmed a few months before Pendleton was shot.

Prosecutors had introduced the video to show Ward and Williams bobbing along the the beat and throwing up gang signs while shoulder-to-shoulder with Randolph and other SUWUs who testified for the state. Koehler pointed out that Randolph can be seen in the video, pointing a gun at the camera— but when asked, Randolph refused to even acknowledge that he was holding a gun, even as the frame froze on his face and the pistol’s barrel.

“I’m not holding a gun,” he said.

Asked if one of the verses of “Scary Movie”— “when n—-r ‘Rod hits the block/it’s a scary movie”— was a reference to Randolph himself carrying out shootings, Randolph tersely replied.

“I’m not a n—-r, ma’am,” he said.

“Of course you’re not,” Koehler said. “But that ‘Rod,’ is you, isn’t that right?”

“I plead the Fifth,” Randolph said.

Check back later today for continuing updates on trial testimony, and a recap of the testimony of another reluctant SUWU, Tryon Lawrence, whose time on the stand featured insight into whether “drill rap” is art or documentary.

RE-CAPPING DAY ONE OF THE TRIAL

Testimony resumed Wednesday in the trial of two men charged with the murder of 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton, with alleged members of the SUWU street gang taking the stand as reluctant witnesses for the prosecution.

The trial opened Tuesday with Pendleton’s best friend, 21-year-old Klyn Jones, who recounted the unseasonably warm afternoon of Jan. 29, 2013, when a gunman opened fire on a group of King College Prep students gathered under a canopy in a South Side Park.

Pendleton’s death –– which came just over a week after she and the King band had performed at a Washington D.C event celebrating Barack Obama’s second inauguration –– captured national attention.

Cook County prosecutors allege the shooter was Micheail Ward, who had targeted the group thinking they were members of a rival gang.

Ward’s co-defendant, Kenneth Williams, allegedly waited behind the wheel of Ward’s white Nissan, and drove them away after the shooting. Two of Pendleton’s classmates also suffered minor injuries in the shooting.

Defendant Kenneth Williams, center, is flanked by attorneys Matt McQuaid, and Julie Koehler, during opening arguments in the Hadiya Pendleton murder trial at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune Pool
Defendant Kenneth Williams, center, is flanked by attorneys Matt McQuaid, and Julie Koehler, during opening arguments in the Hadiya Pendleton murder trial at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune Pool

Testimony Wednesday is likely to include several members of the SUWU gang faction to which Ward and Williams allegedly belonged, and while they may have implicated their fellow gang members in front of the grand jury five years ago, it wasn’t clear what they would say on the witness stand.

Prosecution witness Ernest Finner had told a grand jury in 2013 that Williams told fellow members of the SUWU street gang that he and Ward had “done a drill” at the park. But on the witness stand Tuesday, a surly Finner claimed he didn’t recall making the statement — responding “I don’t know” to dozens of questions posed to him by Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Holmes. Seated beside their lawyers, Ward and Williams watched Finner’s testimony intently.

For more than an hour, Holmes essentially read Finner the grand jury transcript, periodically asking if Finner remembered what he’d said while under oath five years ago.

Injecting a little humor at the close of his questioning, Holmes asked “What’s your name.”

“Ernest Finner,” Finner replied, slouching in his seat.

“Just wanted to hear you answer a question,” Holmes said.

On cross examination by Ward’s lawyer, Finner showed stronger recollection of how he came to be questioned: his parole officer summoned him to a meeting at “an abandoned building” where he was met by detectives investigating the Pendleton murder. While there, they threatened Finner with a parole violation, and said his mother, who worked for the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, would lose her job.

The trial is expected to last two weeks, with separate juries — one for each defendant — shuttling in and out of the courtroom for portions of the testimony that would be inadmissible against either Ward or Williams.

More than 20 relatives and family members, including Pendleton’s mother, Cleo Cowley Pendleton, were seated in the front rows of the gallery across from the jury box. An equally large contingent, supporting Ward and Williams, have been seated in the pews across the aisle, behind the two defendants.