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Prosecutors play video of interrogation in Hadiya Pendleton murder trial

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

Jurors on Monday watched the first few hours of a dramatic videotaped interrogation that led to the confession of the alleged gunman in the 2013 murder of Hadiya Pendleton.

With now-retired Chicago Police Det. John Halloran seated in the witness box, jurors watched a courtroom monitor as video of Halloran and partner John Murray questioning defendant Micheail Ward in a tiny interrogation room at Area 1 headquarters. The questioning began shortly after Ward and co-defendant Kenneth Williams were arrested in connection with Pendleton’s murder, a little more than a week after the shooting.

The tinny audio and overhead camera angle shows Ward slumped beside Halloran on a bench along the back wall of the small room. Murray stands in a doorway. The questioning opened with Ward softly describing the afternoon of Jan. 29, 2013, when he said he borrowed his mother’s white Nissan and recalled picking his two younger brothers up from school.

When Ward finishes his account, after about 10 minutes, Halloran begins the first of several lengthy monologues, outlining— often in a voice just softer than a shout— evidence he said connected Ward with the shooting. During the next hour, Ward seldom spoke again.

Among Ward’s problems, Halloran points out the massive amount of media attention focused on the case, and the “high standings” of Pendleton and her King High School classmates.

“All f—— honor students, dude. All from King, all high standings and that’s the problem. That’s the big problem with this,” Halloran said. “The second big problem is Michelle Obama came in for f—— wake and the funeral so you know the president know — the president knows all about this so you think he’s lying when he said we had all the resources available to us.”

Halloran and Murray repeatedly urge Ward, then 18, to “fill in” details of the murder for them and tell them where the murder weapon is, while reminding him they have all the evidence they need to charge him and that he can “help himself.”

“So you stepped up thinking you were going to do the right thing in the middle of this gang war,” Halloran said. “Well, you made a mistake, a terrible mistake. And now it’s time to explain it.”

Later, Halloran asked again: “What were you thinking when you were at that fence line pulling the trigger? What were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t there,” Ward replied, his voice almost inaudible.

“You were there. We have you on video. You were there,” Halloran said “You’ve been identified. You were there.”

Halloran and Murray were overstating their case during the interrogation, Assistant Public Defender Gina Piemonte pointed out on cross examination.

Telling Ward he had been positively identified wasn’t entirely true: a single witness to the shooting had picked him out of a photo array tentatively.

“It says looks familiar, doesn’t even say ‘looks similiar,'” Piemonte said, showing Halloran a photo array.

Ward did not confess until hours later, after the detectives’ tone shifted, and a different duo of detectives took over his questioning.

Ward’s attorneys and prosecutors sparred for months over how much of the interrogation video would be played for jurors, with prosecutors wanting played only the few minutes preceding Ward’s eventual confession.

Defense lawyers argue that detectives browbeat Ward for hours and fed him details of the shooting that he later repeated back to them.

Halloran has a controversial history and has been named in multiple lawsuits from men who claim they were abused by him or other detectives during interrogations that netted confessions. Halloran on several occasions has secured confessions from suspects who were later cleared, including a rape suspect who had been in jail when the crime occurred.

Halloran has denied any wrongdoing in obtaining the confessions.

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