More than two years after he was convicted of being the getaway driver in Hadiya Pendleton’s murder, Kenneth Williams on Tuesday made an exhaustive — but ultimately unsuccessful — bid to throw out the jury’s verdict.
After lengthy arguments, Judge Diana Kenworthy ruled that Williams' new attorneys did not prove his previous lawyer was ineffective, and said their allegation that one juror was dishonest about having a connection with Williams was unfounded.
The ruling seemingly paves the way for his sentencing. Prosecutors said Tuesday that Williams may be facing more than three decades behind bars.
Motions for a new trial are typically short and procedural. A judge’s rejection is often such a foregone conclusion that arguments for a new trial are scheduled for the same day as a sentencing.
But Williams' attorneys launched a full-court press. Without a confession from him, a murder weapon or any physical evidence, every decision could have made a difference in the trial’s outcome, they argued.
And the process revealed new details about a case that has seen intense scrutiny since Hadiya was killed in 2013. The teen’s killing just a week after she performed at festivities for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration became emblematic of Chicago’s entrenched gun violence.
Attorneys disclosed that Williams rejected an offer that would have given him a 15-year sentence in exchange for testifying against his co-defendant, Micheail Ward.
And defense attorneys said a juror on Williams' case had once worked as a youth coordinator in the public housing building where both Williams and Ward lived.
There is no record the juror ever revealed that information, and Williams' attorney did not bring it up after Williams and his mother both mentioned they recognized the woman.
But she would have been a prominent presence at Lake Parc Place for years, defense attorneys said. And according to information developed by a defense investigator, the juror did disclose her relationship with Williams to the court, and the trial judge said it was OK.
Prosecutors contended that the juror must have worked with hundreds of youths at the building, and Williams was only 12 when she left for a different job. The juror herself signed an affidavit saying she had no independent recollection of the defendants. Even if she did recognize Williams, she would have had no reason to be biased against him, Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Holmes said.
“Apparently (the juror) has a deep-seated hatred for the 12-year-old defendant, she waited 14 years to get back at him,” Holmes said, a bit of sarcasm to which the defense vigorously objected.
In addition, Williams' attorneys argued that his trial attorney, Matthew McQuaid, was inadequate — failing to cross-examine witnesses and filing very few motions, crippling Williams' record for any future appeal.
“This does not mean Mr. McQuaid is a bad person, this does not mean he’s not a nice guy, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t doing his best. … He didn’t protect the record for Mr. Williams,” Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Kucaba said.
Kenworthy did not buy either argument. The juror who worked at the housing complex cannot be expected to remember every single youth she had worked with more than a decade prior. And McQuaid was not an ineffective “potted plant" in his defense of Williams, she said.
But she did chastise prosecutors for using the term “urban safari” in their closing argument at trial. The term brings up “distasteful” and harmful stereotypes, she said.
“The parties in this case are not animals, and this city is not a jungle,” she said.
Much has changed for Williams, now 27, since his August 2018 trial. He got a new set of attorneys. The trial judge, Nicholas Ford, has left Cook County for the federal immigration bench. And Ward, convicted of being the gunman, was sentenced early last year to 84 years in prison.
Hadiya, a sophomore, was taking shelter from rain in Harsh Park after final exams at King College Prep High School when, prosecutors argued, Ward got out of a car driven by Williams and opened fire. The park is about a mile from the Obamas' home in the South Side’s Kenwood neighborhood.
Hadiya was fatally struck in the back, and two other students were wounded.
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