The two men accused of shooting Hadiya Pendleton will appear in a Chicago courtroom on the first-degree murder charges Tuesday, hours before her parents are to sit with First Lady Michelle Obama for the president’s State of the Union speech.
Pendleton died after being shot in a park just a mile from the Obamas’ Chicago home and just days after the popular majorette performed in Washington at the president’s inauguration.
Even though the shooting was just one of 40 homicides in Chicago in January, Pendleton, 15, has become the face of the city’s increasing gun violence and one more tragic milestone in the national debate over tougher gun-control legislation.
Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, were scheduled to appear in Bond Court on Tuesday afternoon, a spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times. Both have been charged with first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm.
The pair were arrested on Saturday on their way to a strip club, hours after the funeral for Pendleton that was attended by Michelle Obama and other dignitaries, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Police said the two suspects are gang members who confessed to mistakenly killing the girl when one of them fired into what they thought was a group of rival gang members.
“Ward confessed and indicated Hadiya was not the intended target,” Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told reporters at a news conference on Monday night.
“The offenders had it all wrong. They thought the group they shot into included members of a rival gang. Instead it was a group of upstanding, determined kids who, like Hadiya, were repulsed by the gang lifestyle,” he said.
At the time of Hadiya's slaying, McCarthy said, Ward was on probation for a weapons conviction.
And even though Ward had been arrested three times in connection with break-ins and trespassing while on probation for a weapons conviction in recent months, he was still free, according to the Chicago Tribune. In two of those arrests, including one just 2-1/2 months ago, Cook County probation officials failed to notify prosecutors or the judge that Ward had been arrested on new misdemeanor charges and allegedly violated his probation.
The head of the county's Probation Department acknowledged that his office fell short in its responsibilities and vowed to find out what went wrong. But it was unclear whether the probation violation would have led officials to put Ward in jail, according to Jesus Reyes, director of the Cook County Adult Probation Department. Misdemeanor charges do not usually led to incarceration of offenders, he said.
McCarthy said Ward told police that the January shooting was in retaliation for an attack on Williams, who was wounded in the arm in July by a rival gang. Williams then refused to cooperate with authorities after being shot.
On Jan. 29, Pendleton and some of her friends went under a canopy in a South Side park, seeking shelter from a storm. Police said a gunman opened fire with a handgun and fled in a waiting car allegedly driven by Williams. Pendleton was struck in the back and died later in the day; two others were injured.
There were more than 500 homicides in Chicago last year for the first time since 2008. January continued the sad record-setting trend, becoming the deadliest January for homicides in more than a decade.
The current debate over gun violence was renewed when a man attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing 20 children and six adults. Adam Lanza began his rampage by killing his mother in the Connecticut home they shared and ended it by killing himself in the school.
Since then, the Obama administration has proposed to renew the ban on assault weapons and to end the sale of high-volume ammunition clips. It has also proposed universal background checks on gun purchasers. All of the proposals are opposed by gun lobbyists, led by the National Rifle Assn.
Obama is expected to make another pitch to end gun violence at the State of the Union address on Tuesday night. In addition to Pendleton’s parents, there will be representatives of other recent gun violence including the attack on an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, a shooting rampage against a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and during a political stop in Arizona by then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Obama is also scheduled to visit Chicago to discuss gun violence later in the week.
It is unclear whether the federal efforts on gun control would have prevented the attack on Pendleton. But changes in local laws might have, McCarthy said at his news conference. If Chicago had laws like those in New York City, McCarthy said, Ward wouldn't have been on the streets after his earlier arrest on gun charges.
“This has to stop. Gun offenders have to do significant jail time,” said McCarthy, who rose through the ranks of New York City's police and is the former police director in Newark, N.J.
Mayor Emanuel joined McCarthy and Cook County State's Atty. Anita Alvarez at a Monday afternoon news conference to announce they would push for tougher gun laws that would increase the minimum sentences and require offenders to serve at least 85% of their sentences.
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