The gunman convicted in the killing of 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton is set to be sentenced Monday.
Micheail Ward, who was 18 at the time of the South Side shooting, faces a minimum of more than 50 years on charges of murder and aggravated battery. A jury found the now 24-year-old Ward guilty on all counts related to the shooting, a verdict that came the day after a separate jury delivered a guilty verdict against his getaway driver and co-defendant, Kenneth Williams.
Ward and Williams were arrested on the day of Pendleton’s funeral, a nationally televised event attended by then-first lady Michelle Obama. Pendleton’s death came just two weeks after the King College Prep High School majorette had performed at a Washington D.C. event in honor of Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Pendleton was shot Jan. 29, 2013 at a small South Side park about a mile from the Obamas’ Kenwood home.
Ward confessed to the shooting after a marathon interrogation, during which, Ward’s lawyers argued, the teenage suspect was lied to and manipulated by detectives on the case. Jurors watched nearly four hours of video of the questioning, during which Ward said Williams pressured him to shoot at a gaggle of teenagers huddled under a shelter at Harsh Park, a group that Williams believed were members of a street gang called 46 Terror.
Witnesses testified to seeing a white car speeding away from an alley near the park, toward the territory of the SUWU gang, rivals of 46 Terror. Acting on that hunch, prosecutors identified a white Nissan sedan registered to Ward’s mother and began interrogating SUWU members, two of whom told police that Williams and Ward picked them up in the car around the time of the shooting.
Ward’s lawyers argued that the evidence against him was thin. No murder weapon or other physical evidence was found linking Ward to the crime, and Pendleton’s friends had given conflicting and equivocal descriptions of the shooter in the days after the shooting.
But, on the witness stand, several of those same friends confidently pointed to Ward as the shooter who gunned down Pendleton and wounded two of her classmates. However, the purported SUWU members who had testified against Ward and Williams in front of a grand jury took the witness stand denying they had ever implicated the pair in the shooting—one witness told Ward’s lawyer, “I do a lot of drugs, ma’am.”
Pendleton’s mother, Cleo Cowley Pendleton, who has become an anti-violence advocate in the years after her daughter’s murder, is expected to offer a statement during the hearing. Williams’ sentencing date has not yet been set.