CHICAGO – A judge on Monday imposed an 84-year prison sentence on a Chicago man who fatally shot a 15-year-old honor student a week after she performed at President Barack Obama's 2013 inauguration festivities.
Cook County Judge Nicholas Ford handed down the punishment to 24-year-old Micheail Ward five months after Ward was convicted of murder and aggravated battery in the killing of Hadiya Pendleton.
"I am upset that I'm the one that's going down for a murder that I didn't commit," said Ward, asserting his innocence in court Monday. "All y'all had to do was take time to investigate it. Y'all would have seen what happened."
Ford, a former prosecutor, said it was Ward's own words – both at his sentencing and in a videotaped statement to police after his 2013 arrest – that sealed his fate.
"What you have noticed in his remarks was a complete absence of empathy," said Ford, standing at the bench as he delivered his remarks often in a raised voice.
The defense contended detectives manipulated Ward into making a false statement. His lawyers told jurors that Ward was wrong about key facts about the shooting, which they said proved he was innocent.
Pendleton became a symbol of Chicago's gang violence when she was caught in the crossfire of a gang feud she had nothing to do with. Obama spoke of her death during his 2013 State of the Union address, and then-first lady Michelle Obama attended her funeral.
Last year, a jury concluded Ward, who was 18 at the time, was guilty of firing the fatal shot that struck Pendleton in the back. A separate jury found the man accused of driving the getaway car, Kenneth Williams, guilty of first-degree murder as well. Ward and Williams also were convicted of aggravated battery for the wounding of two others.
On Monday, Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Brian Holmes called Ward "a sociopath," noting Ward was on probation in January 2013 when the shooting occurred. He added that Ward "is the face of senseless gun violence in Chicago."
Pendleton's mother and brother gave victim impact statements at the sentencing hearing.
"Hadiya is serving a death sentence. and the whole family is doing life as a result of her death," Cleopatra Cowley said.
Nathaniel Pendleton Jr. said he still regrets not being able to come to his sister's aid, although he was not with her at the time of the shooting.
"I still to this day have not been able to forgive myself, and sometimes I don't think I ever will," he said.