CHICAGO — Defense lawyers highlighted a lack of physical evidence as the trial started Tuesday for two men charged in the shooting death 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.
Separate juries are hearing the cases against Micheail Ward and Kenneth Williams in the January 2013 death of Hadiya Pendleton. Lawyers gave opening statements and began questioning witnesses Tuesday.
Ward's attorney, Julie Koehler, told jurors that investigators don't have the gun and found no shell casings at the scene or gunshot residue in the car used by Ward and Williams.
Pendleton was with friends at a park 1 mile from Obama's Chicago home when she was shot in what prosecutors say was a botched attempt at gang retaliation. Prosecutors said the then-18-year-old Ward was the gunman and that Williams, who was 20, was the getaway driver.
Assistant State's Attorney Barbara Dawkins told jurors the trial would teach them about "how rivalries and friendships are determined by gang boundaries and about how disputes are handled through violence on the street."
Koehler countered by saying that while a "beautiful young lady" lost her life, prosecutors have nothing connecting Ward to the crime.
"Did you ever hear (the prosecutor) talk about physical evidence?" Koehler asked the jury. "Nope. Because there isn't any."
Prosecutors said Ward confessed to opening fire on a crowd of teenagers who'd taken cover from the rain under a shelter at the park, believing he was shooting at members of a rival gang. Ward recanted his confession, given after 48 hours in police custody that included 17 hours of interrogation.
Pendleton's friend, Klyn Jones, testified she was standing near Pendleton when she suddenly saw a man pointing a gun at the group and heard four shots fired as she and Pendleton ran.
"I turned around and she was running still, but she was obviously slowing down, and then she grabbed her chest and said, 'I think I got shot,'" Jones testified. "I said, 'Stop playing, we have to go.' And she said, 'No, seriously, I think I got shot.' And fell to the ground."
In his 2013 State of the Union address , Obama said Hadiya had become a symbol of the senseless gun violence in Chicago.
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.
Court adjourned for the day Tuesday just before 5 p.m. and is scheduled to begin again Wednesday at 10 a.m. The trial is expected to take at least two weeks.