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Hadiya's Alleged Killer a 'Good Kid,' Family Says

By  Erin Meyer and Geoff Ziezulewicz | February 13, 2013 3:16pm | Updated on February 13, 2013 4:02pm

COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Family members of one of the men charged in Hadiya Pendleton's murder spoke publicly Wednesday, calling Michael Ward a loving son and father.

Janise Cooper, an aunt of Ward, said her nephew "has made some mistakes in the past." But Cooper did not go so far as to say Ward would be acquitted.

"I'm just going to say the truth is going to come out," Cooper said.

Ward, who police say admitted to shooting 15-year-old Hadiya at a South Side playground last month, and another man charged in the case, Kenneth Williams, made a brief court appearance Wednesday.

Ward is accused of seeking revenge on a rival gang by shooting into a crowd of people in Vivian Gordon Harsh Park. Though prosecutors said Ward had determined "everyone had to go," police said Hadiya and the group of students she was with were innocent victims.

 Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, were charged in the slaying of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton.
Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, were charged in the slaying of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton.
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Chicago Police Department

Cooper said Ward is "a loving son...[and] father."

"Our family is torn apart, just like the young lady's family is torn apart," she said.

Cooper predicted that Ward is "going to get back on the right path ... and going back to a normal life — if you want to call it normal, because after this it won't be normal."

Ward's cousin, Eliel Brown, 20, also defended Ward.

"I know as my cousin. He's good at heart. He loves his family," said Brown. "He's a good kid."

Williams' family members were not in court. However, his attorney said he also is looking for the "truth."

“I’m not going to say [Williams was] railroaded, but I’m saying that I believe that he’s been charged with very scant evidence,” defense attorney Matthew McQuaid said.

Williams' ability to receive a fair trial in Cook County “could be an issue,” he said.

McQuaid said no witnesses have identified Williams, and that there is no physical evidence.

“What they do have, just based on my experience, it’s going to be put into great question,” McQuaid said. “Slowly but surely, we’re realizing there’s not a whole heck of a lot of evidence against Kenneth Williams.”

McQuaid said the police and prosecutors were “under the gun” to quickly arrest and charge Hadiya’s alleged killers, and that they still were searching for evidence in the 48 hours between arresting the two and charging them.

“They did whatever they had to do to make sure they got something in front of this court,” he said.

Ward admitted in a videotaped statement to police that he crept up and fired six shots at Hadiya's group, according to prosecutors.

But in court, prosecutors only said Williams “made admissions” to being part of the shooting.

McQuaid questioned why the prosecution failed to make clear at the bond hearing on Tuesday just whom Williams allegedly confessed to.

“That distinction is usually made clear at the bond hearing,” he said.

After his arrest in the brazen afternoon ambush in Harsh Park on Jan. 29 that sparked national outrage, Ward allegedly told investigators that Hadiya had nothing to do with his gang beef.

"She was just there," prosecutors said, allegedly quoting Ward.

The rival gang had killed one of Ward's friends, and the gangs had been trading gunfire since 2010, prosecutors said.

"If we keep standing for this, we are going to be some straight bitches," Ward allegedly told police after his arrest. 

"It hurt. It hurt to a point where everyone had to go," Ward allegedly said.

Ward, 18, and Williams, 20, are being held without bond.

Ward waved at Cooper and other family members Wednesday as Cook County Sheriff Department officers escorted him and Williams out of court and back to the county jail, where they will remain until their next court date on March 1.