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Interrogation tape in Hadiya Pendleton murder: confession or coercion?

Defendant Micheail Ward listens during the trial in the fatal shooting of Hadiya Pendleton at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. Prosecutors played a videotape for jurors of an interrogation of a man who ultimately confessed to pulling the trigger in the fatal 2013 shooting of Hadiya Pendleton. Ward is charged with first-degree murder, as is the alleged getaway driver, Kenneth Williams. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool)

When he arrived in the tiny, windowless interrogation room at Area 1 police headquarters, Micheail Ward talked at length about how he spent his afternoon the day Hadiya Pendleton was shot. Ward, then 18, had borrowed his mother’s car to pick his younger brothers up from school, and gave turn-by-turn descriptions of his route to Chicago Police detectives John Halloran and John Murray.

But as soon as Ward had finished, Halloran began the first of several lengthy monologues where he outlined what sounded like a mountain of evidence against Ward: eyewitness identifications; video footage; and statements from Ward’s fellow SUWU gang members, including Ward’s getaway driver and future co-defendant, Kenny Williams.

Ward, Halloran said, had targeted blameless victims in Pendleton and a crowd of her King High School classmates, and even the FBI was eager to help the CPD catch the killer.

“All f—— honor students, dude. All from King, all high standings and that’s the problem,” Murray said as Ward slouched on a bench next to Halloran. “The second big problem is Michelle Obama came in for the 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?”

Defendants Kenneth Williams (right) and Micheail Ward (left) stand with Defense attorney Scott Kozicki (center), during the trial for the fatal shooting of Hadiya Pendleton at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. Defendant Micheail Ward and co-defendant Kenneth Williams are on trial for the shooting. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Pool)

On Tuesday, jurors watched some four hours of Ward’s interrogation, footage that might have resembled the yelling, bluffing and bluster of a TV cop drama but for the tinny sound, ceiling-mounted camera angle — and the marathon duration of the questioning.

A pair of detectives who took over on the day shift, and took a less confrontational tack, took a rambling confession from Ward after the 18-year-old had spent a few hours — interrupted by a 3 a.m. wake-up for more questioning — sleeping on the floor.

Ward’s confession is the strongest evidence prosecutors have in the case against him. In it, he said his getaway driver and co-defendant, Kenneth Williams, pressured him to shoot at Pendleton and her classmates. Ahead of the trial, Ward’s lawyers and prosecutors had sparred over how much jurors would see of the interrogation that produced it. Prosecutors wanted them to see the few minutes where he laid out his version of the shooting, while Ward’s lawyers argued his statements were coerced and wanted more than four hours of questioning played.

In Ward’s videotaped confession, he said the park where Pendleton and her friends had gathered after their final exams at King was also crawling with members of the 4-6 Terror street gang. Members of the rival crew had killed one of Ward’s friends in October, he said.


Defendant Micheail Ward’s video-recorded confession is played during the trial Tuesday. Micheail Ward is shown at left. Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Pool

One of Ward’s intended targets even tried to use Pendleton as a shield as he ran from the gunshots, he said during the interview. Ward even pantomimed the scene for detectives.

“As they running off, they, they grab a girl and they threw her in front and she got shot,” Ward told detectives Scott Reiff and Cullen Murphy.

But Ward’s lawyers pointed out that detectives overstated the case they had against the teen, implying that he had been positively identified by multiple witnesses and that the shooting was captured on surveillance video from pod cameras and surrounding homes.

In fact, several witnesses had made only uncertain identifications of Ward. The only video they had of him was of him getting out of the car and switching seats with Williams around the time of the shooting, and later, pulling up to nearby gas station with a carload of fellow alleged SUWU gang members.

Halloran was asked in court Tuesday if his tactics were “fair game” when questioning a suspect.

“I am lawfully allowed to go in an interview room and lie to a suspect. It’s a lawful, legal practice and it’s an accepted practice in police interrogation,” he replied.HADIYA-082218-32

Hadiya Pendleton’s parents Cleopatra Cowley and Nathaniel Pendleton Sr. watch Micheail Ward’s video-recorded confession as it’s played Tuesday. | Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Pool

Ward’s statement also was filled with errors. None of a dozen or so King students who had been with Pendleton in the park had seen anyone else there, much less dozens of gang members, nor had any claimed that someone had tried to use Pendleton as a shield. Ward also said he’d used a semi-automatic pistol in the shooting, though the lack of shell casings at the murder scene would indicate the murder weapon was a revolver.

Separate juries have been selected to hear evidence against Ward and Williams, so the panel that will weigh a verdict against Williams was not present Tuesday to hear Ward describe how Williams pressured him to take the gun and fire at Pendleton and her friends.

When the trial resumes Wednesday, jurors in Williams case are expected to begin deliberations after hearing closing arguments. In the afternoon, Ward’s jury will return to hear the defense case, with closing arguments and deliberations likely on Thursday.