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Hadiya Pendleton Murder Suspects Arrested on Way to Strip Club: Top Cop

By  Mark Konkol and Darryl Holliday | February 11, 2013 6:30pm | Updated on February 12, 2013 9:39am

CHICAGO — Hadiya Pendleton had just been buried. First lady Michelle Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel were at the 15-year-old's packed funeral to comfort her heartbroken parents.

Her alleged killers, meanwhile, were gearing up to party at a strip club, police said.

They didn't make it, getting pulled over and collared by Chicago cops set on solving a murder that drew national attention and again thrust the city into the gun violence spotlight.

The alleged killers —Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20 — were charged in the murder of Hadiya, who was shot and killed in late January, a week after attending President Barack Obama's inauguration with the King College Prep school band, police said.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Ward was the shooter and Williams drove the getaway car.

Ward, on probation for a gun conviction, confessed to investigators, saying he shot into Hadiya's group in retaliation for Williams being shot over the summer. But the group he sprayed with bullets weren't in gangs and had nothing to do with the earlier shooting, McCarthy said.

In addition to the first-degree murder charges, Williams, of the 3900 block of South Lake Park Avenue, and Ward, of the 300 block of West 59th Street, each were charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery/discharge of a firearm.

McCarthy said at a news conference Monday night that the shooting was an attempt at retaliation for a July shooting in which Williams was shot in the arm at 39th Street and Lake Park Avenue. McCarthy said police made an arrest in that incident, but "Williams refused to prosecute."

Instead, McCarthy said, he sought revenge, and on the afternoon of Jan. 29, the two Gangster Disciples parked their car near Harsh Park, 4458 S. Oakenwald Ave., where Hadiya had gathered with friends after school.

Ward crept up toward Hadiya's group, who the two mistook for those responsible for Williams' shooting, police said. Ward "sprayed" the crowd with bullets, McCarthy said, before jumping in a car that Williams drove away. The two took turns driving after that, he said.

McCarthy said Ward has "confessed" to being the shooter and "indicated that Hadiya is not the intended target. ... In fact the offenders had it all wrong."

McCarthy lamented that police weren't able to break the "no-snitch" code. Although many tips came in, no one came forward and identified Ward or Williams on their own, he said.

Instead two days before the shooting, police pulled over Ward in a white 2011 Nissan in an unrelated traffic stop. After Hadiya's slaying, neighbors described the car used in the shooting, which matched the description of the car Ward had been in during the traffic stop.

Police eventually tracked down Ward and Williams, who were arrested Saturday night near 67th Street and Martin Luther King Drive. They were on their way to a strip club party, cops said. Police brought in witnesses, who allegedly identified Ward and Williams in lineups.

Interviews with witnesses continued Monday when a witness who had been on vacation returned to town, officials said.

"We did not get our target audience to step up. The community provided a lot of tips. None of them panned out, nor did they lead to closure," McCarthy said. Officials said it remains unclear who will collect the $40,000 reward that had been offered for help in solving the slaying.

He said it was detectives' "stubbornness, their hard work that has brought us to this point."

"The breaks in this case came from good police work," McCarthy said.

Sources said Mayor Rahm Emanuel had personally called Hadiya's parents, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel Pendleton, to share the news of the arrest.

Hadiya's father, Nathaniel Pendleton, said despite the arrest, he won't feel any closure until those responsible for his daughter's death are actually convicted of the crime.

"That’s what will actually bring closure — knowing those guys are off the streets," he said. "I would love to know that these guys become poster children for criminals, that even the worst criminal won’t want to be who those guys are."

But a friend of Hadiya who was with her when she was killed said Monday night that “I’m glad that they got them because it’s not fair that they got to go about their everyday life this long. I’m glad that they’re not going to do anything to anybody else. It’s sad because they are young, too. Even though they did something wrong, their future is gone just like hers is.”

Ward's aunt, Gina, said she saw him Saturday, before he was arrested.

“He was over here Saturday. He said he was going to a party. I told him to be careful. And from there, they arrested him," Gina Ward said. "I pray for him all the time. I hope he didn’t do that. I don’t think he would do something like that. Not my nephew.”

Gina Ward said her nephew was enrolled in classes to get his high school equivalency diploma at Malcolm X College.

“He was trying to get himself together. I told him you can’t depend on your so-called friends. You have to get your own life together,” she said. “I don’t know what happened."

McCarthy said the shooting wouldn't have happened if Illinois had harsher penalties for gun offenders, including mandatory minimum jail sentences similar to those in effect in New York. Ward was arrested on gun charges in 2011 and received probation.

"As if the story couldn't get any worse, ladies and gentlemen, it did," McCarthy told a room full of reporters at the Monday night news conference. "This incident didn't have to occur. Michael Ward was arrested in 2011 for unlawful use of a firearm. If mandatory minimums existed in the state of Illinois, Michael Ward would not have been in the state to complete this heinous act.

"We're talking about saving lives,'' McCarthy said.

The two men will be in bond court Tuesday, the same day Hadiya's relatives are set to attend  Obama's State of the Union address in Washington, D.C.

Obama plans to visit Chicago Friday to discuss gun violence.

First lady Michelle Obama attended Hadiya's funeral Saturday.