Jury selection begins in trial of 2 men accused in Hadiya Pendleton murder

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's been more than five years since 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was killed. Now, her family could see justice.

Jury selection began Friday for the trial of two men charged with her murder.

Two separate juries will be picked to simultaneously to decide the fates of 25-year-old Kenneth Williams and 24-year-old Micheail Ward.

Prosecutors said the sophomore honors student was taking shelter from the rain in Harsh Park after final exams when Ward got out of a car driven by Williams and opened fire.

According to prosecutors, Ward and Williams were gang members driving through the turf of a rival faction.

Hadiya was fatally struck in the back. Two other students were also wounded.

Hadiya's death came just a week after she performed at festivities for then-President Barack Obama's second inauguration and became a symbol of Chicago's gun violence problem. The shooting took place just about a mile from the Obamas' Chicago home.
Her death caught the attention of the Obamas, then inhabitants of the White House. Then-First Lady Michelle Obama attended the teen's funeral, and Hadiya's parents sat next to FLOTUS during the 2013 State of the Union speech.

Hadiya's death seemed to be a flashpoint at the time, sparking a movement to stop the violence in Chicago.

"It woke us up," said Arthur Lurigio, a professor of criminal justice and psychology at Loyola University. "A young lady with a personality and a loving family. It humanized the killings. There are so many in Chicago."

But years later, little has changed: Court proceedings Friday come almost a week after a violent weekend in Chicago where 66 people were shot and 12 of them died.

Lurigio studies Chicago's violence over decades and agreed that the situation remains in stasis.

"These are the same neighborhoods that were the most violent communities in Chicago 50 years ago," he said. "Nothing has changed since the 1960s on the West Side and the South Side."

Hadiya's parents were not present for jury selection Friday. They are, however, expected to be in court Tuesday when opening statements are expected to be made.

Without physical evidence or a murder weapon, prosecutors are expected to rely on Ward's recorded statement to detectives, although a judge has barred playing the entire statement.

Hadiya's parents are doing their best to honor her legacy.

Now owners of a South Chicago restaurant, they celebrated two years in business last winter. It's a success for the Pendletons. Hadiya's portrait hangs on the restaurant walls.

"It's no better. It's no better at all," Nate Pendleton, her father, said.

"It's not straightforward. We just do the best that we can," said Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, Hadiya's mother.

Her parents have become anti-violence advocates. At times that has meant being in the public eye, but more recently it's been working with teens directly.

"It's been a long time coming, but when we go through this, it's the last time," Cleopatra said about the trial.

"We don't want any appeals. We just want justice," said Nate Pendleton.

The family held a large celebration on June 2, to mark what would have been Hadiya's 21st birthday.
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