(MCT) — CHICAGO — The family of a reputed gang member charged with fatally shooting 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton in a South Side park last month defended him Wednesday, saying he is a “good kid” who has made mistakes but would not commit such a senseless murder.
After attending a brief hearing on the case, an aunt and cousin of accused gunman Michael Ward told reporters that they hoped the “truth will come out” about Ward, who they say has a young child of his own.
“He has made some mistakes in the past and we are not disputing any of that,” said his aunt, Janise Cooper, who denied Ward was a gang member. “But he is a loving son, father and our family is torn apart, just like the young lady’s family is torn apart.”
Judge Donald Panarese Jr. scheduled a preliminary hearing for March 1 for Ward, 18, and co-defendant Kenneth Williams, 20. Both were ordered held without bond on Tuesday on charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm in the Jan. 29 attack that also left two teens wounded.
After the 30-second hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Ward turned and gave a little wave to his family seated in the front row of the courtroom gallery.
Ward’s family had previously told his attorney that he was seeking a high school equivalency certificate at Malcolm X College. However, school officials said Wednesday they had no record of him taking any classes.
Cooper, 43, declined to say if she thought her nephew would be acquitted of the charges.
“I’m not going to say that. All I’m saying is that the truth will come out,” she said. “Young people make mistakes. All you can do is get them back on the right path. … They have to just get back up and get on the right track.”
Ward’s cousin, Eliel Brown, 20, echoed the praise, saying he has always known Ward as a “good kid.”
“He’s good at heart,” he said. “He loves his family.”
Williams’ family has not spoken publicly. His lawyer, Matthew McQuaid, said Williams has no criminal record and graduated from King College Prep, the same selective-enrollment school Pendleton was attending when she was gunned down.
Authorities described Ward and Williams as reputed gang members out for revenge on a rival gang.
At the bond hearing Tuesday, prosecutors said Ward confessed to police that he and Williams were driving around when they passed Harsh Park and spotted Pendleton’s group, relaxing after final exams and taking shelter from the rain under a canopy. After he was handed a gun by Williams, Ward crept up on the group and fired six shots, prosecutors said.
Pendleton, who had recently performed with her high school band at President Barack Obama’s inauguration festivities, was fatally shot in the back and two other students were wounded. The tragedy has focused national attention on Chicago’s rampant gun violence.
Ward was convicted early last year of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and was on probation at the time of the murder, according to prosecutors.