Getaway driver gets 42 years in Chicago honor student death

CHICAGO — The getaway driver in the 2013 fatal shooting of a Chicago high school honor student who just days before her death had performed at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration festivities was sentenced Tuesday to 42 years in prison.

The driver, Kenneth Williams, was convicted in 2018 of first-degree murder in the shooting of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, whose death led to a national outcry about Chicago’s gun violence. Two other teenagers were wounded in the shooting.

Cook County Circuit Judge Diana Kenworthy on Tuesday ordered Williams to serve 35 years for the murder conviction and seven more years for aggravated battery.

Pendleton died just days after she performed as a majorette with her high school band at Obama’s inauguration festivities. The scene of the shooting is about a mile from the former president’s home in Kenwood on Chicago’s South Side.

In her victim impact statement, Pendleton’s mother, Cleopatra Cowley, said she and her family are still trying to rebuild their lives.

“Kenneth Williams is equally responsible for the physical death of our daughter, the death of her dreams and the generational death of her children and grandchildren,” Cowley said before Williams was sentenced.

Williams addressed the Pendleton family, expressing sympathy for their grief, but maintaining his innocence.

“Just deep sadness hurt and pain in your voice directed to me, feel like, like a lot has been put on me as far as these circumstances,” said Williams.

Micheail Ward, the man convicted of shooting at Pendleton and her friends at a park near their high school, was sentenced in 2019 to 84 years in prison. Prosecutors said the teens were innocent victims of a yearslong gang war.

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 shooter and said he had acted on Williams’ orders.

Kenworthy said Williams was more than just a getaway driver.

“They were looking for people to shoot.” the judge said.

Williams had faced up to 90 years in prison. Pendleton’s parents said they are satisfied with the sentence.