CHICAGO (CBS) — Opening statements are underway in one of the highest profile murder trials in Chicago in years.
Two separate juries will decide the fates of the two men accused of killing 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton in 2013. Prosecutors have said Micheail Ward and Kenneth Williams are gang members who mistook the honor student and her friends for rival gang members during a rain storm, and opened fire on the group in a park known as a gang hangout.
Opening statements in their trial began shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday.
The heater case took more than five years to go to trial not only because of the complexity of the case, but because Ward switched attorneys a couple years after he was indicted, essentially forcing things to start over from scratch.
“There’s been a change of lawyers. There’s been evidentiary rulings on admissibility of statements. There’s questions about the reliability of the confession. There’s even issues about the reputation of the detectives that have been litigated in this case. All that adds up to a time-consuming process” CBS 2 legal analyst Irv Miller said.
Hadiya was gunned down in a South Side park in January 2013, just days after marching as a drum majorette in President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. The shooting also happened just blocks from the Obama family home in Kenwood.
The president and first lady were so moved by what happened that Michelle Obama attended Hadiya’s funeral.
Ward and Kenneth Williams were arrested and charged with Hadiya’s murder less than two weeks after she was killed. Prosecutors said Hadiya and a group of friends were taking cover from the rain in Harsh Park, when Ward and Williams mistook them for rival gang members and opened fire at the group.
Ward allegedly fired the shots, and Williams allegedly drove the getaway car.
Since their arrest, the case has progressed slowly, as Ward switched attorneys a couple years ago, and prosecutors and defense attorneys have wrangled over legal issues, including Ward’s videotaped interrogation, which lasted 23 hours. Ward has since recanted his confession.
One of the detectives who questioned Ward once worked with disgraced former Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who was convicted of lying about the torture of suspects in the 1970s and 80s.
Ward and Williams have presented conflicting defenses, resulting in two separate juries being seated to decide the case.
“There’s a big issue about the admissibility of Ward’s confession; whether or not it was voluntary, whether it could have been coerced, as to whether or not the jury should even hear that confession. That was a pretrial motion that took a lot of time, and frankly it’s typical in a murder case that a motion like that would be filed,” Miller said.
Williams never confessed after his arrest, so when Ward’s recanted confession is discussed in court, the Williams jury will have to leave the room.
The trial at the Leighton Criminal Court Building is expected to last about two weeks.
The judge in the case has allowed cameras to record much of the proceedings, but some witnesses objected to testifying on video. Cameras also will not be allowed to film the judge or jury, and live-tweeting from the courtroom has been barred.