CHICAGO – Two men pleaded not guilty Thursday – one to 141 counts of first-degree murder – in the shooting death of a 15-year-old Chicago girl who performed at President Barack Obama’s inaugural festivities days before she died.
Both Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm and a long list of other charges in Hadiya Pendleton’s death.
She was shot Jan. 29 after she and her friends sought shelter from the rain in a city park. Ward and Williams had been hunting for rival gang members and Pendleton was an innocent bystander, prosecutors say.
Her killing about a mile from Obama’s home on Chicago’s South Side made national news and became a symbol of movements to end gun violence. Michelle Obama attended her funeral.
Ward was the one charged with 141 murder counts. His attorney, Jeff Granich, said in a phone interview Thursday he has never heard of a case of a single murder with anything close to that number of counts.
The high-profile nature of the case, he said, appears to have led prosecutors to pile on the charges.
“I know prosecutors want to show they’re taking this case seriously,” he said. “But the 141 counts have the opposite result: Instead of looking professional and serious, they look silly and dumb.”
Some of the attempted murder counts and other charges relate to Pendleton’s friends who were in the park with her. But Granich said he still couldn’t fathom how prosecutors ended up with so many counts.
Contacted later Thursday, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office declined any comment.
In addition to the 141 murder counts, Ward is also charged with 10 counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm, eight counts of attempted murder, two of aggravated battery with a firearm and one of mob action.
Williams is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm, two counts of attempted murder, two of aggravated battery with a firearm and one of mob action.
Williams’ lawyer, Matthew McQuaid, told reporters his client intends to go to trial.
“He didn’t do this,” he said.
The girl’s father, Nathaniel Pendleton, also attended the hearing and told reporters afterward that he felt some anger seeing the suspects – though he said his focus was on advocating nonviolence.
“You’re going to feel some anger, but I feel confident they (authorities) will do what they have to do to make justice happen,” he said.
Ward and Williams, who remain in jail without bail, are due in court again for a status hearing May 6.