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Hadiya Pendleton murder trial: Classmates recall warm day, rain, gunshots, chaos

Prosecutor Brian Holmes during testimony from witness Stephen Abdul in the trial for the fatal shooting of Hadiya Pendleton at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago on Thursday, Aug. 16 ,2018. Defendant Micheail Ward and co-defendant Kenneth Williams are on trial for the shooting. | Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Pool

Stephen Abdul and a group of his King College Prep classmates were chatting and passing around marijuana blunts, waiting out a sudden downpour under a canopy in Harsh Park.

Abdul spotted movement out of the corner of his eye, and turned to see a man pointing a gun at the group, then heard gunshots.

Abdul bolted from the park and hid under a staircase of a nearby townhome. When he came out a few minutes later he saw King sophomore Hadiya Pendleton, slumped on the sidewalk and surrounded by friends.

That was January 29, 2013, and just over a week earlier, Abdul, a senior drum major in the King marching band, had performed with Hadiya at a Washington, D.C., event ahead of President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Abdul headed home before police arrived, and learned on social media that 15-year-old Hadiya was dead.

Hadiya Pendleton (AP Photo/Courtesy of Damon Stewart, File)
Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in January 2013. | Associated Press photo/Courtesy of Damon Stewart

Nearly six years later, Abdul was the most confident eyewitness among more than a half-dozen of his classmates called to testify Thursday against the two men charged with Hadiya’s murder. The day after the murder, and then again a week later, Abdul had picked alleged gunman Micheail Ward out of a photo array — though he said Ward’s face had “similar characteristics” at the time — and was similarly equivocal when again tentatively fingering Ward with a “pretty solid” identification at a police lineup days later.

Defendant Micheail Ward listens as Chicago police detective Abdalla Abuzanat testifies during Ward’s trial in the fatal shooting of Hadiya Pendleton Thursday. | Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Pool
Defendant Micheail Ward listens as Chicago police detective Abdalla Abuzanat testifies during Ward’s trial in the fatal shooting of Hadiya Pendleton Thursday. | Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Pool

Thursday, Abdul was certain. He pointed out Ward seated in the courtroom as the shooter. Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Holmes pointed out that Abdul wasn’t “100 percent” sure in 2013.

“As you sit here today, how sure are you?” Holmes asked.

“One-hundred percent guaranteed,” Abdul said.

Ward’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler pointed out that Abdul’s memory seemed to have improved after more than five years of reading about the case and seeing Ward and co-defendant Kenneth Williams’ faces in the news. In the lineup, Abdul had said that Ward had a similar “manner” and stature, but wouldn’t say he was the shooter, Koehler noted.

Defense attorney Julie Koehler uses photos in her questioning during testimony from witness Jordan Dillon Thursday. | Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Pool
Defense attorney Julie Koehler uses photos in her questioning during testimony from witness Jordan Dillon Thursday. | Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Pool

“But after five years of watching press coverage and reading about this case on social media, you’re [now] able to identify Mr. Ward?” Koehler said.

Abdul’s former classmates all gave similar descriptions of what had started as a pleasant afternoon for students celebrating the end of final exams. First came the rainstorm, then the gunshots, then panic. Few had clear recollections of what the shooter looked like, though several had made tentative identifications of Ward from photo arrays or lineups.

Defendant Kenneth Williams listens to testimony from witness Jordan Dillon Thursday. | Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Pool
Defendant Kenneth Williams listens to testimony from witness Jordan Dillon Thursday. | Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Pool

Danetria Hudson recalled holding Hadiya’s head in her lap as they waited for an ambulance, choking up at the memory.

“I tried to find the bullet wound, but I couldn’t find it,” she said, pausing to wipe away tears.

Sebastian Moore and Lawrence Sellers both were wounded in the shooting. Moore was hit in the leg, but said he heard a bullet whizz past his head.

“I heard something go past my ear,” he said. “And it wasn’t a fly.”

He said he ran off and ducked behind cars, but noticed what felt like a rock in his shoe. At one point, he said he took off his boot and heard what “sounded like a quarter” hit the ground. But he kept running. It wasn’t until he got home that his mother noticed his foot was bleeding, he said.

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