It took a Cook County, Ill., jury less than three hours to find Kenneth Williams guilty on all charges related to the 2013 killing of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, a King College Prep High School student who performed as a majorette for Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Williams was convicted on one count of first-degree murder, as well as two counts of aggravated battery for shooting and wounding two of Hadiya’s classmates as they gathered in Harsh park after final exams.
Prosecutors alleged that 25-year-old Williams acted as the getaway driver in an attempted gang retaliation. His passenger and co-defendant, Micheail Ward, was accused of opening fire into the crowd.
As ABC 7 News notes, while both Williams and Ward stood trial for Hadiya’s death, their trials were held separately since their defenses differed. Williams’ defense hinged primarily on two friends and reputed gang members, Demetrius Tucker and Ernest Finner, telling police that Williams admitted to doing a “drill”—slang for a shooting—shortly after Hadiya’s shooting.
But Tucker and Finner backed off those statements during the trial, telling the court they couldn’t remember making those statements, the Tribune reports. Williams’ lawyer alleged that police had “tricked” the two young men into going down to the station and coerced those statements.
But Cook County attorneys said that cell phone data show Williams was by the park around the time the shooting occurred. In addition, “a surveillance camera near the shooting scene showed Williams exit the getaway car to let Ward back in the driver’s seat shortly after the shooting,” writes the Tribune. As ABC 7 notes, however, the evidence presented against Williams was all circumstantial—with no murder weapon found and no witness identification.
One key piece of evidence the jury in Williams’ trial didn’t hear was a video confession from Ward, 18 at the time, telling detectives he only opened fire into the park after Williams threatened to kill him. That video was played at Ward’s trial.
Hadiya’s death drew nationwide attention for her connection to the Obamas. For many, she came to symbolize the extent of Chicago’s gun violence problem, though many have rightly questioned the political motivations behind such attention.
In the end, Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Holmes convinced the 7 man, 5 woman jury that Williams was just as guilty in Hadiya’s death as Ward, the alleged gunman.
“He’s the driver of a drive-by. Did he help? Did he aid? Yes. You cannot have a drive-by without a driver,” Holmes told jurors during closing arguments.
Closing arguments in the Ward trial are scheduled for Thursday.