(Reuters) - One of two men charged with killing a 15-year-old Chicago honor student who performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration told police he shot her because “she was just there” as he targeted a rival gang, prosecutors said on Tuesday.
Hadiya Pendleton was shot dead on January 29, eight days after the majorette appeared at an inauguration event in Washington, D.C. Her death highlighted the ongoing problem of homicides in Chicago and became a rallying cry for advocates for tougher gun control nationally.
Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, both of Chicago, were each charged Monday with first-degree murder and attempted murder in connection with the shooting, which also left two other teens wounded. They were ordered held without bond at a court hearing on Tuesday.
Prosecutors said the murder was a case of mistaken identity, and the men were targeting members of a rival gang.
Hundreds attended the teen’s Saturday funeral, including First Lady Michelle Obama, who invited Pendleton’s parents to President Barack Obama’s Tuesday State of the Union address.
Police officials say Ward gave a videotaped confession saying he and Williams rode in Ward’s mother’s car, looking for members of the rival 4-6 Terror gang.
According to police, Ward is a member of the SUWU gang. Ward admitted that Pendleton “had nothing to do with it. She was just there,” according to police. While police say Williams did not confess to being part of the shooting directly to officers, they say cell phone records place him at the scene of the crime.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez told reporters after the hearing she is seeking the maximum punishment possible, which could be life in prison for Ward, who confessed to shooting Pendleton.
Williams is accused of providing the gun and pointing out the group of kids to Ward, prosecutors said.
Alvarez says the murder is another example of the “no-snitch” culture, which means victims or witnesses of crimes won’t tell police. Also, she said it’s a case for why the state needs stronger gun laws and to make sure that offenders are being held accountable and given strong enough punishments to serve as a deterrent to more crime.
The two defendants appeared in court Tuesday, but did not make any statements. On the day of the incident, Pendleton and other students were at a South Side park after being let out early from school following final exams. Video surveillance showed the white Nissan believed to be involved in the shooting driving by the area and then driving away after the shooting, prosecutors said. Williams is believed to have been the getaway driver.
Jeffrey Granich, Ward’s attorney, says that he was “sought after, no warrant was obtained... and kept in custody for 48 hours,” while repeatedly requesting an attorney.
Police say Williams graduated from the same school that Pendleton attended.
Ward had prior juvenile judgments for robbery, theft and aggravated battery in which he was given two years probation on an aggravated unlawful use of a weapon charge, police say.
Friends of the Pendleton family were present at the court hearing Tuesday.
“I‘m just glad justice is kind of being served,” said David Smith.
Another family friend Ray Hill told reporters, “The violence needs to stop in Chicago. Enough is enough.”
Reporting By Renita D. Young; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Andrew Hay