A suspect who claimed he was forced to kill a 15-year-old high school honor student in Chicago’s South Side in 2013 was convicted Thursday of first-degree murder.
The jury concluded that Micheail Ward was guilty of firing the fatal shot that struck Hadiya Pendleton in the back, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The verdict — in a case that drew national attention and came to symbolize Chicago’s rampant gun violence — brought a sense of relief to Pendleton’s family.
“There is justice for Hadiya,” Pendleton’s mother, Cleopatra Cowley, said after the verdict was delivered. “She did not deserve what happened to her.”
“There is justice for Hadiya. She did not deserve what happened to her.”
On Wednesday, a separate jury found the man accused of driving the getaway car, Kenneth Williams, guilty of first-degree murder.
During the trial, jurors watched a video in which Ward confessed to killing Pendleton in a South Side park. Pendleton had recently returned from Washington, where she performed as a majorette with her high school band at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
Ward said Williams would kill him if he didn’t open fire, because he believed Pendleton and her group of friends were a rival gang. Ward said he got out of the car he and Williams were in and walked over to a fence and opened fire on the group.
Ward’s mother insisted her son, who was 18 at the time of Pendleton’s death, is innocent and was coerced by Chicago police detectives into confessing, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“I’m disappointed in our criminal system,” she said following Thursday’s verdict. “I’m disappointed by how they just harassed these kids into a confession.”
Despite being one of 3,000 deaths that year, Pendleton’s murder drew national attention when it was mentioned by President Obama during his 2013 State of the Union address. The killing, which happened within a mile of the Obamas’ Chicago home, prompted Michelle Obama to attend Pendleton’s funeral.
“Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her,” the first lady told an audience afterward.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.