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Trial of two men accused of Hadiya Pendleton’s murder begins its second week

Attorney Julie Koehler, defendant Micheail Ward, attorney Scott Kozicki

Defense attorney Julie Koehler, defendant Micheail Ward, and attorney Scott Kozicki during the trial for the fatal shooting of Hadiya Pendleton. Ward and co-defendant Kenneth Williams are on trial for the shooting. | Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Pool

The trial of the two men charged with the murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton is set to resume Monday, and jurors can expect to learn more about Chicago gang culture and police interrogation techniques in the second week of testimony.

Few jurors among the two panels selected to hear evidence in the case said they knew much about Pendleton’s death in 2013. Separate juries are rotating in and out of the courtroom for co-defendants Micheail Ward and Kenneth Williams. The teen’s murder — just over a week after Pendleton had performed with her South Side high school’s band in Washington, D.C., for President Obama’s second inauguration — quickly became a focus of national attention.

Lawyers for Ward and Williams made the media attention on the killing, and the pressure on investigators to quickly close the case, a focus of their cross-examination of police witnesses who testified during the first week. Expect the defense to press the point even harder this week, as they question the detectives who secured a confession from Ward after the then-18-year-old had spent 48 hours in police custody. More than four hours of Ward’s interrogation is expected to be played for the jury.

Ward’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler, spent months trying to introduce evidence that Ward’s confession was the result of psychological tactics used by his interrogators who fed him a story to parrot back about the shooting. A key witness will be veteran CPD detective John Halloran, who played the “bad cop” in the early hours of Ward’s 17-hour interrogation.

The decorated detective has been named in numerous lawsuits alleging he bullied or beat suspects into false confessions, including Peter Williams, who confessed to a 1992 rape. Prosecutors dropped charges against Williams when his lawyers located jail records that showed Williams had been locked up at the time of the rape, but co-defendants Dan Young and Harold Hill, who also confessed, were convicted — then exonerated by DNA evidence.

Halloran also was one of the detectives who secured a confession from Nevest Coleman and Derrell Fulton, who said they were beaten into signing false admissions of guilt in a 1994 rape case. Both were convicted and served many years in prison before being cleared by DNA.

Prosecutors have built their case that Pendleton and her classmates went to Harsh Park, near King College Prep, after their final exams, then unwittingly wandered into a feud between rival South Side gang factions. Ward and Williams are accused of opening fire on Pendleton’s group thinking they were members of the 4-6 Terror crew that hung out at the park.

Last week, prosecutors played “drill rap” music videos in which Ward and Williams are seen bouncing to the beat alongside members of the SUWU gang. In another video, members of 4-6 Terror rap over scenes from their territory, including Harsh Park.

Testifying for the prosecution, veteran gang unit officer Sgt. Jose Lopez said he started looking for suspects among the ranks of the SUWU based on reports that the shooter got into a car that sped off in the direction of SUWU territory. Defense lawyers have pointed out that detectives never looked at other gangs in the area that might have been fighting with 4-6 Terror.

With the prosecution likely to close out their case by mid-week, Ward’s lawyer is expected to put University of Illinois-Chicago sociologist John Hagedorn, a gang expert who has written several books on Chicago gang life, on the witness stand to refute Lopez’s insights on how gangs work.

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