COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — The men accused of killing 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton about a mile away from President Barack Obama's Kenwood home pleaded not guilty during their arraignment Thursday.
Michael Ward, 18, accused of the January shooting of Hadiya, along with Kenneth Williams, 20, who authorities said was the getaway driver, pleaded not guilty on counts of murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery.
The two were charged in February in the teen's slaying, and Ward faces 141 counts of first degree murder — a number his lawyer called "a joke."
Police have said Ward admitted to shooting the King College Prep honors student at Vivian Gordon Harsh Park in Kenwood on Jan. 29. The gunfire also injured two men who were in a group with Hadiya at the park.
In an earlier court hearing for the men, prosecutors said Hadiya and her friends were innocent victims of gang-related crime. Ward, of the 300 block of West 59th Street, and Williams, of the 3900 block of South Lake Park Avenue, allegedly wanted revenge after a rival gang shot Williams and mistook some of Hadiya's group for enemy gang members.
Hadiya performed with her high school's marching band at Obama's inauguration just a week before she was killed, and she was a member of the volleyball team. First lady Michelle Obama attended her funeral in February.
The Cook County State's Attorney's office declined to comment on why the indictment included so many counts.
But Jeffrey Granich, Ward's attorney, said the 141 counts reflect an effort by the State's Attorney's office to "pander to the media and politics."
Granich said he's seen prosecutors indict alleged murders on many counts in other cases "to cover their bases."
"It's what any smart lawyer does," he said. "But I've never seen anything remotely like this; it's a joke.
"When you go over the top, you don't look professional, you look stupid and silly," he said. "If they are trying to show how seriously they take this thing, they are, in fact, doing the opposite."
At the courthouse on Thursday, Hadiya's father, Nathaniel Pendleton, said he soon hopes to start a foundation in his daughter's name. Hadiya's mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, discussed creating the foundation during a speech at North Park University last week.
"It's a long road that we gotta cross," said Hadiya's father. "Right now there's really no feeling."
Speaking to the media after Ward's and Williams' arraignment, Hadiya's father said seeing the two men charged in his daughter's slaying plead not guilty strengthened his resolve to be an agent of change rather then feed feelings of rage over her death.
"You are going to feel some bit of anger," Pendleton said. "We are trying to make good things come from something bad. I gotta do what I can do on our side, which is to do whatever I can to practice nonviolence."
In Washington, President Obama was joined at the White House by Hadiya's mother in the East Room as he pressured Congress to act on a package of gun-related laws coming up in the Senate.
He mentioned a number of high-profile gun incidents, such as those in Newtown, Conn., and Blacksburg, Va., and the shooting in Chicago that left Hadiya dead. He also was joined by relatives of people killed in those and other tragedies.
"Agony burns deep in the families of thousands — thousands of Americans who have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun over these last 100 days, including Hadiya Pendleton," Obama said.
Congress will vote on measures that proponents say will make it harder for people to buy guns for others and will add background checks for buyers who purchase weapons at gun shows.
Obama said he recently read a news article asking whether "As time goes on after Newtown, somehow people start moving on and forgetting."
"Let me tell you, the people here, they don't forget. . . . Hadiya's mom hasn't forgotten," Obama said.
"We’re not just going to sit back and wait until the next Newtown or the next Blacksburg or the next innocent, beautiful child who is gunned down in a playground in Chicago or Philadelphia or Los Angeles before we summon the will to act," Obama said.