The driver of a getaway car in the deadly 2013 shooting of a major league student in Chicago, who had occurred just days before her death during President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, was sentenced Tuesday to 42 years in prison.
Kenneth Williams was convicted in 2018 of first degree murder in the shooting of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, whose death sparked a national outcry over gun violence in Chicago. Two more teenagers were injured in the shooting.
Cook County Circuit Judge Diana Kenworthy on Tuesday sentenced Williams to 35 years in prison for murder and seven years for aggravated assault.
Williams drove the night Micheail Ward shot Pendleton in the back as she and her friends sheltered from the rain in a park on the south side of Chicago,
Pendleton was a honors roll student at King College Prep High School and was murdered just over a week after returning from Washington, where she had majored with her school band at President Barack Obama’s inauguration festivities.
The shooting site is about a mile from the former president’s Kenwood home on Chicago’s south side.
Kenneth Williams, who drove the getaway car in the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton in 2013, was sentenced to 42 years in prison on Tuesday.
She was murdered just over a week after returning from Washington, where she had majored in her high school band at President Barack Obama’s inauguration festivities.
During Williams’ defense, he denied his role in the shooting and again claimed that he was “misjudged” by the jury. He is pictured in court in 2018
Ward and Williams were arrested on the day of Pendleton’s funeral, a service attended by then-First Lady Michelle Obama. Under questioning by investigators, Ward initially admitted to being the gunman and said he had acted on Williams’ orders.
Judge Kenworthy said Williams was more than just a getaway driver.
“They were looking for people to shoot.” said the judge.
Gunner Ward was sentenced to 84 years in prison in January 2019, five months after being convicted of murder and aggravated assault in the murder.
Ward testified that he was ordered to shoot at a group of young people, including Pendleton, who he believed were members of a rival gang. Pendleton’s story is a symbol of gang violence in Chicago when she became entangled in the crossfire of a gang feud she had nothing to do with.
Driver Williams was found guilty of first degree murder by a separate jury around the same time as Ward.
However, he blocked his conviction after attempting to overturn the jury’s verdict last September, which was unsuccessful.
Williams claimed his attorney was ineffective and that a juror was dishonest about her connection to him, according to a Chicago Tribune article published at the time.
William’s attorney said a juror had worked as a youth coordinator in a public housing building where he and Ward lived. The juror never mentioned such information, and William’s lawyer did not respond when Williams said he recognized the woman.
Pendleton (pictured) was shot in the back as she and her friends sheltered from the rain in a park on the south side of Chicago
The gunman, Micheail Ward, was sentenced to 84 years in prison in January 2019.
But prosecutors argued that the Williams was 12 when the juror worked in juvenile housing, supervising hundreds of children. She also signed an affidavit stating that she had no personal memory of Williams.
Brian Holmes, the state’s assistant attorney, said that even if she recognized him, it wouldn’t mean she had reason to be biased against him.
William’s defense attorneys also argued that his trial attorney, Matthew McQuaid, failed to cross-examine witnesses and prevented him from filing a future appeal.
In the months leading up to his sentencing on Tuesday, Williams repeatedly requested that his defense be removed completely and represent himself, the Chicago Tribune reported. He explained that he joins the Sovereign Citizens’ Movement, a group that believes that individual citizens are independent of the authority of federal and state governments.
Kenworthy ordered a doctor from the county’s forensic clinical services to determine whether Williams was fit to represent himself, the Chicago Tribune reported. The doctor thought Williams was competent enough to represent himself.
Pendleton’s mother Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton told Williams at sentencing that he was simply liable for Pendleton’s death as the man who pulled the trigger. She is pictured at the hearing on July 20
Pendleton’s brother Nathaniel Pendleton Jr. said at the sentencing that he was “scarred forever” by the loss of his sister. He is pictured at the hearing on July 20
During Williams’ defense, he denied his role in the shooting and again claimed that he was “misjudged” by the jury. “I cannot take responsibility for anything that I did not intend, no active participation and no inactive participation or that I was not aware of,” he said, as reported by WTTW, a Chicago PBS affiliate.
He also addressed Pendleton’s family, saying, “It pains me deeply to hear the pain in your voice directed at me.”
Pendleton’s mother Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and brother Nathaniel Pendleton Jr. told Williams at sentencing that he was simply liable for Pendleton’s death as the man who pulled the trigger, WTTW reported.
In a victim statement accompanying the sentencing, Cowley-Pendleton said: ‘Kenneth, you are responsible for so much grief, pain and depression. We have all had to recreate our lives, learn to breathe, think, communicate and function. It’s been hell.’
Nathaniel said, “I am forever scarred by the loss of my sister. She is now gone forever because of the actions of Kenneth Williams. He can have a visit from his family. My family has to visit a grave.’
Kenworthy stated in her statement that Williams was more than just a getaway driver, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, saying he was “not surprised. [He and Ward] were looking for people to shoot.’
Williams had been given a sentence of between 26 and 90 years during Tuesday’s hearing, but prosecutors said they did not want the maximum sentence in this case.
The state’s assistant attorney, Brian Holmes, made it clear that the verdict would set a precedent to hold other flight drivers complicit when involved in crimes, WTTW said.
Ward previously testified that he was ordered to shoot at a group of young people, including Pendleton, who he believed were members of a rival gang. He is pictured in court in 2018
Cook County Circuit judge Diana Kenworthy stated in her ruling that Williams was more than just a getaway driver and said he was ‘not surprised’ by the shooting
“Let the word go out from this courtroom that if you help, encourage or drive the getaway car, point out and select the victims for a shooter or help the shooter in any way, and then you brag about it to your friends. . . you’ll get caught,’ he said. “You will be tried, you will be convicted and you will be severely convicted.”
Pendleton’s death left a legacy beyond the Chicago community. Former first lady Michelle Obama attended her funeral, and Obama addressed the shooting in his 2013 State of the Union address, citing it as one reason he pushed for tougher gun laws.
Meanwhile, Williams’ conviction comes the day after Senator Kristen Gillibrand and Democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams reintroduced the Hadiya Pendleton and Nyasia Pryear-Yard Gun Trafficking & Crime Prevention Act, making arms trafficking across state lines a federal crime. It failed when it was first introduced in 2013.
In addition to Pendleton’s memorial, the bill’s name also refers to Nyasia Pryear-Yard, who was killed by gunfire in 2009 when a gang clash erupted at an event she attended in Brooklyn. She was 17.