The man convicted of killing 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was sentenced Monday to 84 years in prison, after giving a defiant speech proclaiming his innocence in the 2013 shooting that became a symbol of Chicago’s gun violence.
Mickieal Ward, who was 18 at the time of the South Side shooting, faced a minimum sentence of 51 years on counts of first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm, denied he was the gunman who killed Pendleton and wounded two of her King College Prep High School classmates.
Fixing his gaze on the assistant prosecutor who led the case against him, 24-year-old Ward loudly maintained his innocence and questioned the evidence against him during a rambling, 10-minute address to the court.
“All y’all had to do was sit down and really investigate this crime,” Ward said, standing and facing Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Holmes.
“Y’all would have seen why,” he said, looking at Pendleton’s mother and father in the courtroom gallery. “And she would know what’s wrong with her daughter, she would know who killed her daughter for real.”
Seated in the front row, Pendleton’s mother, Cleo Cowley Pendleton, stared at Ward and scowled.
Ward’s monologue seemed to outrage Judge Nicholas Ford, who had sentenced Ward to probation on a gun charge 15 months before Pendleton was shot. Ford pointed out that Ward was more emotional and remorseful when he gave a videotaped confession to detectives soon after Pendleton’s funeral.
“During the course of the period of time those interviews occurred you saw an erosion of his protestation of innocence,” Ford said, referring to his taped confession. “He wept in his admission. Those tears were tears of regret over his conduct, that (are) absent today, and noteworthy.”
In the courthouse lobby, Pendleton’s parents said they were satisfied with the verdict.
“It’s basically a life sentence, and I think it’s befitting,” Cleo Pendleton said. “Hadiya’s lost her life, and he’s going to spend the rest of his life behind bars.”
Ward was sentenced to 70 years for first-degree murder and will have to serve each and every year. An additional 14-year sentence for aggravated battery with a firearm will run back-to-back, for a minimum of more than 80 years in prison. Even with credit for time served, Ward, who has been in jail since his arrest at age 18, could not be released until he was in his late 90s.
Ward’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler, had filed a lengthy motion seeking a new trial and said Ward would appeal his conviction and sentence.
“If this conviction stands, he will never, ever get out of jail,” Koehler said. “He went in as an 18-year-old boy, and he will die in prison.”
Holmes said Ward was a “sociopath” and noted that Ward had already racked up numerous juvenile arrests by the time of the shooting, including charges of theft and armed robbery in incidents that took place just one day apart. At the time of the shooting, he was on probation — mandated by Judge Ford — for a gun charge.
Ward’s mother told reporters on Monday his first name was spelled Mickieal. But court records dating back to his 2013 arrest spell his first name as “Micheail.”
A jury found the now-24-year-old Ward guilty on counts of first-degree murder and aggravated battery, 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. The park where Pendleton was shot was about a mile from the Obamas’ Kenwood home.
Ward, who was 18 at the time of his arrest, had confessed to being the shooter after marathon interrogations by two teams of detectives, and had recanted soon after making the statement. Ward admitted to opening fire on Pendleton and a group of her friends who were huddled under a park shelter, having mistaken them for members of a rival gang.
In his confession, Ward had said he was acting on orders from his co-defendant, Kenneth Williams, a former King student who drove the getaway car. Several fellow gang members told police and a grand jury that Ward had admitted to murdering Pendleton in the days after the shooting, but when called as witnesses at Ward’s and Williams’ trial they claimed not to have made the statements. Ward said those witnesses had been suspects themselves.
No date has been set for Williams sentencing.