- Created on 29 March 2013
Two men pleaded not guilty Thursday — one to 141 counts of first-degree murder — in the shooting death of a 15-year-old Chicago girl who performed at President Barack Obama's inaugural festivities days before she died.
Both Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm and a long list of other charges in Hadiya Pendleton's death.
She was shot Jan. 29 after she and her friends sought shelter from the rain in a city park. Ward and Williams had been hunting for rival gang members and Pendleton was an innocent bystander, prosecutors say.
Her killing about a mile from Obama's home on Chicago's South Side made national news and became a symbol of movements to end gun violence. Michelle Obama attended her funeral.
Ward was the one charged with 141 murder counts. His attorney, Jeff Granich, said in a phone interview Thursday he has never heard of a case of a single murder with anything close to that number of counts.
The high-profile nature of the case, he said, appears to have led prosecutors to pile on the charges.
"I know prosecutors want to show they're taking this case seriously," he said. "But the 141 counts have the opposite result: Instead of looking professional and serious, they look silly and dumb."
Some of the attempted murder counts and other charges relate to Pendleton's friends who were in the park with her. But Granich said he still couldn't fathom how prosecutors ended up with so many counts.
Contacted later Thursday, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office declined any comment.
In addition to the 141 murder counts, Ward is also charged with 10 counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm, eight counts of attempted murder, two of aggravated battery with a firearm and one of mob action.
Williams is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder, 10 counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm, two counts of attempted murder, two of aggravated battery with a firearm and one of mob action.
Williams' lawyer, Matthew McQuaid, told reporters his client intends to go to trial.
"He didn't do this," he said.
The girl's father, Nathaniel Pendleton, also attended the hearing and told reporters afterward that he felt some anger seeing the suspects — though he said his focus was on advocating nonviolence.
"You're going to feel some anger, but I feel confident they (authorities) will do what they have to do to make justice happen," he said.
Ward and Williams, who remain in jail without bail, are due in court again for a status hearing May 6.
- Created on 28 March 2013
Hundreds of teachers, parents and other opponents marched through downtown Wednesday, vowing to fight a plan to close 54 Chicago Public Schools, despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel's comments that he's done negotiating and the closings are essentially a done deal.
Emanuel and schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett say the nation's third-largest district must close dozens of schools because CPS faces a $1 billion budget shortfall and has too many schools that are half-empty and failing academically.
At a rally before the march, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis called the closings "injustices" and said lawsuits are planned. Other speakers called for state and federal lawmakers to intervene.
"There are many ways that you can show that this is not over," Lewis told the protesters, whose march filled the street and stretched a full city block. "On the first day of school you show up at your real school. Don't let these people take your school."
Stopping in front of City Hall, the protesters chanted "Save our Schools" and called for Emanuel's ouster. More than 100 people who had planned to be arrested sat down in the middle of the street, where they continued chanting until police cleared them from the area and issued citations.
Retired teacher Gloria Warner, 62, was among those sitting arm-in-arm with other protesters in the roadway, which was blocked off to rush hour traffic.
"We need the mayor and CPS to invest in our schools, not take them away," the grandmother of two CPS students said. "We need our schools for the safety of our children."
A group of Chicago ministers also went to City Hall on Wednesday to deliver a letter asking Emanuel to halt the plan.
CPS and the mayor say the closings will save the district $560 million over 10 years in capital costs and an additional $43 million per year in operating costs. About 30,000 students — almost all of them in Kindergarten to eighth grade — would be affected.
At a press conference on an unrelated topic Wednesday, the mayor said he and Byrd-Bennett already are working out how to carry through on a pledge that every child who is moved ends up at a higher quality school. He said the closings already have been delayed too long.
"Keeping open a school that is falling short year-in and year-out means we haven't done what we are responsible for; not what our parents did for us and what we owe every child in the city of Chicago," Emanuel said.
Critics say the closings disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods and will uproot kids who need a stable and familiar environment in which to learn. They also worry that students will have to cross gang lines to get to a new school, and that the vacated buildings will be blight on already struggling communities.
Jonathan Hollingsworth III, a lunchroom manager at CPS, said he's also concerned that the plan will leave hundreds of workers jobless. He said he voted for Emanuel but won't do so again.
"He's downsizing everything in the damn city. It's take it or leave it," Hollingsworth said. "Keep this in mind: Come election time, all of these people will have the last laugh."
Opponents of the plan will get another chance to argue their case at a series of public meetings that will be scheduled in coming weeks, though the Chicago Board of Education — whose members are all appointed by Emanuel — is expected to approve the closings in late May.
The closings would take effect beginning at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
- Created on 28 March 2013
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The third inmate to die recently under suspicious circumstances at Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois was found in his cell Tuesday night, authorities said Wednesday.
Randolph County Coroner Randy Dudenbostel said the 35-year-old man, who was housed in the prison's segregation unit, was declared dead at 10:36 p.m.
Neither Dudenbostel nor Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Stacey Solano would release the man's name. Dudenbostel said an autopsy has been scheduled for Thursday.
The prison in Chester, about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis, was locked down while an investigation got under way, Solano said.
The deaths — which so far have resulted in murder charges against one former Menard prisoner — come at a critical time for Gov. Pat Quinn's Corrections Department. With critics complaining about packing more than 49,100 inmates in a system designed for 33,000, there have been other violent attacks. A Pontiac guard who was beaten in January required facial reconstructive surgery. In an early February fracas, up to 15 inmates attacked two Menard guards and a chaplain.
"There's no question that violent incidents appear to be on the rise down there," Randolph County State's Attorney Jeremy Walker said of Menard, adding that his office is handling several other cases of alleged staff assaults by inmates and possession of "shanks," or homemade weapons.
Although Tuesday's victim at Menard was in the maximum-security prison's segregation unit, he had a cellmate. Authorities would not comment on that prisoner's whereabouts at the time.
The death was the third deemed "suspicious" since Jan. 31, when 25-year-old Jason Hall was found in his segregation unit cell. Hall had been serving a 13-year sentence for vehicular hijacking with a weapon and was scheduled to be released in September 2015.
Randolph County State's Attorney Jeremy Walker said Hall's former cellmate, James Amison, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. One count alleges Amison beat Hall's head and face with his fists in what Walker called an unprovoked attack. The other count contends Amison strangled Hall.
Amison has since been transferred to Pontiac Correctional Center. He is already serving five life sentences, including three for murder, and is due in Randolph County court April 8. His court-appointed attorney, James Kelley of Sparta, said the 40-year-old Amison would plead not guilty and "mount a vigorous defense."
Walker said it appears he'll also file criminal charges in the Feb. 25 death of 64-year-old Yusuf Abuzir, serving a life sentence for a 2008 shooting death in Cook County. After an altercation with his Menard cellmate a few weeks earlier, Abuzir died in the prison's health care unit, authorities said.
Critics claim violence is on the rise because of overcrowding and understaffing. Despite the record population, Quinn, a Democrat, ordered the money-saving closures of five correctional facilities, including the high-security Tamms prison in far southern Illinois in early January and the women's maximum-security lockup in Dwight, which is in process.
Dwight, which had more than 1,000 inmates a month ago, was down to fewer than 140 on Tuesday, according to state records reviewed by The Associated Press.
Quinn supports prisons director S.A. "Tony" Godinez and reappointed him to a two-year term in the $150,228 job. Godinez's reappointment must be confirmed by the Senate.
Corrections also began the release last week of well-behaved inmates eligible for credit on their sentences under a program Quinn signed into law last year. The law tightened restrictions on a program the governor halted in 2009 after the AP revealed secret short-cuts the department took that released 1,700 inmates — hundreds of them violent — within weeks or even days of their arrival in prison.
- Created on 28 March 2013
Chicago police is warning residents in the Marquette Park and Chicago Lawn areas on the city’s Southwest Side to be on heightened alert following the abduction of a 15-year-old.
The girl was kidnapped March 21 in the 6600 block of South California at around 7:30 p.m. Allegedly, two male offenders covered her eyes and carried her to their car. They drove her to a nearby alley where the teen was able to get away, according to 8th District police.
The offenders are described as African American males. One is 30-49 years old, 6 feet tall, 200-250 pounds, medium complexion, with a beard and short, black hair.
The other is described as 5'07-5'10"tall, 140-170lbs, medium complexion, shaved face andshort black hair, wearing a black Pelle Pelle coat. Their vehicle is described as black or dark green four-door sedan with black leather interior.
Anyone with information is advised to call Chicago police.
- Created on 27 March 2013
The Chicago Teachers Union plans a massive rally near Chicago Public Schools headquarters Wednesday to protest proposed school actions. More than 30,000 people are expected to converge on the downtown Chicago location during the late afternoon demonstration.
Brandon Johnson, chairman of the CTU Black Caucus, told the Defender that the march will send a message to CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel the proposed school actions are intolerable. The school district announced last week its intentions to close 54 schools, co-located 11 others and turn around six others.
Johnson called the proposed actions “racist.”
“There is no pedagogical or academic benefit to closing schools,” he said. Johnson added that the actions are more about “snatching jobs away” from Black teachers and education professionals, expanding the number of charter schools and making class sizes bigger.
Public schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said the district of 408,000 students in 680 schools needed to be “right-sized” to save money and offer kids better educational options. One day before students would begin spring break, CPS released a list of school actions March 21 that included moving kids out of 54 schools into other nearby schools. Eleven other schools would be “co-located” with another school and six others will undergo the more familiar turnaround where a new principal, teachers and other staff would replace the current ones.
“We have to stabilize the district and get on with educatating our students,” said Byrd-Bennett. “I’m gonna be true, honest and stand as a vanguard for the children.”
CPS called the changes necessary, as part of cost savings over the next decade and anticipates some 30,000 students to be impacted. The school district faces a $1 billion deficit and it says the proposed actions would save $560 million over 10 years in capital costs and another $43 million annually in operating costs.
CTU President Karen Lewis has called the under utilization issue a “manufactured” one and a mere excuse for CPS to close schools and destabilize predominately minority schools and communities.
“This policy is cowardly and the ultimate bullying job,” Lewis said the day the actions list was released. “This policy is racist and classist.”
Further, Johnson told the Defender that the proposed closures are in step with Byrd-Bennett’s motis operandi.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett “closes schools. Her training and part of her career has been for the sole purpose of closing schools,” he said. ”We’re very clear that Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s mission … is to strip Black children away from these institutions that provide the level of stability that our Black children, in particular, desperately need. She knows how devastating (closures are) to communities.”
Parents are not only concerned about their kids having to travel a bit further to get to school, they are also worried about safe passage – including crossing into rival gang territory.
Byrd-Bennett said CPS worked with the Chicago Police Department to help ensure kids can get to school safely. Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Monday at an unrelated press conference that his department would be ready to assist.
The schools CEO said the nation’s third largest school district has seen a decline in student count over the last decade and CPS has seats for 500,000 with just over 400,000 enrolled. The decrease in the number of students came – in part – as a result of gentrification and razing of several public housing projects.
Rev. Roosevelt Watkins, president of the Pastors United for Change, doesn’t think CPS has the “capacity” to close such volume of schools. Watkins, pastor of Bethlehem Star Missionary Baptist Church, called for elected officials to speak out on the closures.
“I’m really waiting to hear from where our aldermen, our state reps, our state senator are, in order for these actions to take place or not take place,” he said. “We need to hear from them if these actions … are appropriate.”
The massive CTU demonstration will take place blocks away from aldermen’s offices at City Hall.