A Cook County jury has convicted the reputed gang member charged with the fatal shooting of teen Hadiya Pendleton more than five years ago.
Micheail Ward, 24, was found guilty Thursday afternoon of first-degree murder following eight days of trial that featured two juries, a videotaped confession and a heavy media coverage brought on by a murder that focused attention on Chicago’s gun violence.
The jury in Ward's case began deliberations shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday. They reached a verdict around 4:30 p.m.
Ward’s verdict came a day after a separate jury inside the same courtroom found fellow gang member Kenneth Williams, the getaway driver during the shooting, guilty of first-degree murder.
Pendleton, 15, was shot in the back and killed on Jan. 29, 2013 while hanging out with friends at a Kenwood neighborhood park on the South Side. At the time of the shooting, she and her friends were standing under a canopy, taking cover from the rain.
Ward and Williams were arrested in February 2013. Ward confessed to police during a recorded interrogation that was shown to jurors, saying he was trying to shoot rival gang members. He later recanted that statement.
“Folks, he confessed,” Assistant State's Attorney James Papa told the jury during closing arguments. “You got to see it in this courtroom. … There is one unmistakable fact in this case and that is this: Micheail Ward is the person who performed the act that caused the death of Hadiya Pendleton. He’s the killer. He did it.”
Pendleton’s death gained national prominence as just one week earlier, she and her King College Prep classmates performed with the school’s band team during the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. First Lady Michelle Obama attended Pendleton’s funeral in Chicago the following month.
Gina Piemonte, an assistant public defender representing Ward, pointed to that national spotlight in her closing arguments Thursday, saying it brought scrutiny and put public pressure on investigators to quickly solve the case.
“The police formed a theory very, very early on in the investigation, the same day it happens,” she said. “And then they pursue that theory, blocking out everything around them that would take them off of that theory until they end it with that confession in that room and they have their man. But what really happened here?”
She said there were no eyewitnesses or physical evidence tying her client to the shooting and claimed investigators manipulated a false confession out of Ward, who was 18 at the time of his interrogation, through lies and promises of leniency. Prosecutors dismissed that claim as “speculation.”
It took Williams’ jury less than three hours Wednesday to convict on the murder charge as well as two additional counts of aggravated battery. The two juries were impaneled to ensure evidence specific to either one of the men could not be used against both defendants.
Ward faces a possible life sentence.