Hadiya Pendleton murder conviction overturned; new trial ordered in Chicago teen's slaying

The 15-year-old was killed at Harsh Park weeks after attending Obama's 2nd inauguration

Leah Hope Image
Friday, March 31, 2023
Hadiya Pendleton murder conviction overturned; new trial ordered in Chicago teen's slaying
In 2013, Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood. Micheail Ward was found guilty and sentenced to 84 years.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- An appellate court has overturned the conviction in the murder of Chicago teen, Hadiya Pendleton.

The ruling comes just a few months after the 10-year anniversary of the deadly Kenwood shooting.

Micheail Ward was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to 84 years in prison for the 15-year-old honor student's murder.

Now, Cook County State's Attorney's Office said they are reviewing the next steps in the case against Micheail Ward.

Ward appealed and Friday, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled in his favor, reversing the conviction and remanding the case back to the lower court, saying his confession should not have been considered at trial.

Ward was one of two men convicted for the 2014 murder of Pendleton.

Pendleton was a majorette who had just returned from performing in Washington, D.C., with her high school band at a celebration ahead of Barack Obama's 2013 inauguration.

"Detectives temporarily halted the interrogation each time Mr. Ward said he had nothing else to say, nothing to say, and did not want to say anything else. However, Mr. Ward was never given a fresh set of Miranda warnings, and the detectives never interrogated Mr. Ward about anything other than the shooting," Judge Mary Mikva wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.

RELATED | Getaway driver in Hadiya Pendleton shooting sentenced to 42 years

Ward's lawyers also said that the trial judge erred by barring them from presenting expert testimony on false confessions and "coercive" interrogation techniques used by the detectives who questioned Ward, and pointed out that details in Ward's confession seemed to indicate that Ward identified the location of the shooting as a park blocks away from a different, smaller park where Pendleton was killed.

While saying the evidence against Ward was strong enough to merit a second trial even without his confession, Judge Mikva noted the witnesses who identified Ward at trial five years after the shooting were more equivocal in their initial statements to police. One witness, who made an uncertain identification of Ward in the days immediately after the shooting, took the stand five years later and said he was "100 percent, guaranteed" certain that Ward was the killer.

Without the confession, the state's case relies on the witness identifications and testimony from two friends of Ward and Williams, who told police that the pair picked them up in the getaway car soon after the shooting and made incriminating statements. No murder weapon or other physical evidence connects Ward to the shooting, the opinion notes.

The lead prosecutor on the case, Brian Holmes, has retired, as has Judge Nicholas Ford, who frequently bickered with Ward's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler.

"Over and over, he said, 'I don't want to talk to you. I don't want to talk to you. I invoke my right to silence. I don't want to talk to you' and they ignored him. They would shake him awake and say he had to talk with them and that is a violation of his constitutional rights," said Koehler.

In his appeal, Ward's lawyers also cited Holmes' referring to the defense case as "chicken shit" during his closing statement, as further grounds for a new trial.

RELATED: Mother of Hadiya Pendleton talks on coping 10 years after losing daughter in Kenwood park shooting

Cleo Pendleton is speaking out again about gun violence ten years after the death of her daughter Hadiya. Speaking to ABC 7's Val Warner, Pendleton encouraged mothers who've lost c

"The Chicago Police Department didn't just fail Micheail, they failed the Pendleton family," Koehler said.

After leaving the campus of King College Prep on an unseasonably warm January afternoon, Pendleton and a half-dozen classmates had gathered under a shelter in Harsh Park in North Kenwood when a gunman opened fire from a nearby alley. The teens scattered, and Pendleton was struck once in the back as she fled, collapsing in the arms of her friend, Klyn Jones.

After the shooting, police quickly turned their attention to members of the Suwu street gang faction, which had been feuding with the 46 Terror gang that counted Harsh Park as their territory. One of the detectives who interrogated Ward was John Halloran, who has been named by numerous defendants in wrongful conviction cases. Halloran has been accused of abusing suspects, and in at least six cases, secured confessions from suspects who were later cleared by DNA or other evidence. Halloran has denied abusing suspects.

The park itself was less than a mile from Obama's Chicago home, and Michelle Obama attended Hadiya's funeral. Weeks later, Pendleton's parents, mother Cleo Cowley-Pendleton and father Nathaniel Pendleton, sat beside the first lady at the State of the Union address.

The Pendleton family waited four years for the trials after the teen's death. They attended every court date and shared their relief after the verdicts and sentences.

Pendleton's mother declined an interview following Friday's ruling but said she is devastated and disappointed.

Koehler said Friday she looked forward to a second trial and was unsurprised by the court's ruling.

"The first time I saw his confession years ago, I knew it was going to be suppressed because it was faulty on the facts and it violated his rights," she said. "I have watched Michaeil grow up in prison, from a 17, 18-year-old to almost 30. It's just a sad case. It's been nothing but tragedy."

The state could petition the Illinois Supreme Court or Ward gets a new trial.

The Sun-Times Media Report contributed to this post.