CHICAGO — An Illinois appeals court on Friday overturned the murder conviction and ordered a new trial for the man accused of shooting and killing 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton in 2013 in Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood.
In 2018, Micheail Ward was found guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm after a jury concluded he fired the deadly shot that struck the teen in the back. He was sentenced to a total of 84 years in prison.
Cook County’s Assistant Public Defender and Ward’s attorney, Julie Koehler, said it has been four years since he began the process of appealing his conviction.
“We said that we have been playing the long game. We knew that there was a very good opportunity for this to be reversed on appeal,” said Koehler. “We will now have the opportunity to fight this case fairly on a second trial.”
On Friday, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled in favor of Ward, overturning the conviction, and remanding the case back to the lower court.
Hadiya was killed a little more than a week after she returned from Washington, D.C., where she performed as a majorette with her high school band ahead of President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Former First Lady Michelle Obama was one of the mourners in attendance for Hadiya’s funeral.
In 2018, after a jury handed down the verdict, Hadiya’s mother, Cleopatra Crowley, told reporters, “There is justice for Hadiya. She did not deserve what happened to her.”
Fast forward nearly five years later, and family learned Friday that the man accused of killing their daughter, may face a new trial.
“The Pendleton family are devasted by the outcome of the verdict,” Hadiya’s family shared with WGN in a statement. “We feel betrayed and need time to process.”
As family is left to prepare for what comes next, Koehler said her heart is also with them.
“Ms. Pendleton being shot down in cold blood in that park that day is just a tragedy and for all the kids that witnessed it,” Koehler said.
Ward, then 18, admitted to shooting Pendleton during a taped interrogation that spanned hours. He and his attorneys have long argued the statement, which became a key piece of evidence in the trial, was false and obtained in violation of his right to remain silent.
“They locked him in a room for hours, he kept saying he did not want to talk, and yet they kept coming back at him,” said Koehler.
In that video, which jurors watched during the trial, Ward said he did not want to open fire at the park on the city’s South Side where Pendleton and friends were gathered after completing their final exams. He claimed Kenneth Williams, the getaway driver convicted in the case, told him if he did not do it, he would kill him.
Ward said he got out of the car he and Williams were in and walked over to a fence and opened fire on the group of young people he believed were members of a rival gang.
A three-judge panel ruled that Ward made it clear he didn’t want to continue talking to detectives several times during the interrogation.
Judge Mary Mikva wrote in the opinion, “After each of the three times Mr. Ward alleges he invoked his right to silence, the detectives took a break but then eventually resumed questioning him. After being held for approximately 12 hours, Mr. Ward ultimately made several inculpatory statements to a second team of detectives.”
In court documents filed Friday, the panel also ruled the statements Ward made after he invoked his right to remain silent are therefore inadmissible and the trial court “erred in denying his motion to suppress them.”
Koehler said they believe the jurors convicted based solely on the statement.
“We now get the opportunity to re-try this case without that false statement,” said Koehler. “What they also saw was 13 students who did not make a single identification of Micheail. They saw there wasn’t any physical evidence in this case and despite that, however, they convicted based on this statement.”
Judge Mikva noted only one student positively identified Ward as the shooter, and that he did not become certain of his identity until trial. Still, the three-judge panel of the 1st District Appellate Court said there is enough to warrant to a new trial.
Ward is being held at the Illinois Department of Corrections.
The State will still have an opportunity to petition for leave of appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, and if they don’t take it, it will be re-docketed and assigned to a new judge in Cook County, since the judge who previously presided over the case, Judge Nicholas Ford, has retired.
If that happens, Ward will be brought back to the Cook County Jail as he awaits trial.
WGN has reached out to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for a comment.
Williams was sentenced to 42 years for his role in the deadly shooting and he also has an appeal pending in his case.