CHICAGO – Jury selection started Friday in the trial of two men charged in the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old Chicago student just days after she performed with her high school band at then-President Barack Obama’s inaugural festivities.
Honor student Hadiya Pendleton was with friends at a park a mile from Obama’s Chicago home in January 2013 when she was shot.
“She had so much to look forward to at that moment,” said Shatira Wilks, Hadiya’s cousin. “And it was all just taken away.”
Two juries will be chosen for the trial of Micheail Ward and Kenneth Williams because of the defendants’ competing defenses. Testimony is expected to start as soon as Tuesday at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago.
In his 2013 State of the Union address, Obama said Hadiya had become a symbol of the senseless gun violence in Chicago.
Prosecutors have said she was caught in the crossfire of a gang feud. They said Williams and Ward picked up friends minutes after the shooting, driving a vehicle that detectives used to link them to the crime.
Lawyers for the suspects called the state’s evidence deeply flawed and have noted that no physical evidence ties either defendant to the shooting.
Obama pushed for gun reforms that Congress didn’t enact following Hadiya’s death and the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
First lady Michelle Obama attended Hadiya’s funeral. In an emotional speech a few months later, she spoke about the shooting as she urged Chicago leaders to take action to curb gun violence, saying Hadiya’s life in many ways mirrored her own growing up on Chicago’s South Side.
“Hadiya Pendleton was me and I was her,” she said.