One of the two men convicted in the 2013 murder of 15-year-old Chicago honor student Hadiya Pendleton has been sentenced to 84 years in prison.
Pendleton was killed on Jan. 29, 2013, when Micheail Ward and Kenneth Williams -- who were both convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated battery in August -- opened fire into a crowd of high school students in a park on Chicago's South Side. Pendleton was visiting with friends at the end of the school day and became caught in the crossfire of a gang feud, prosecutors said. Two others were also injured in the shooting.
Ward continued to maintain his innocence at his sentencing Monday, telling a Cook County Judge Nicholas R. Ford, "I didn't even do it." He apologized to the family, stating that he wished he knew who actually killed their daughter, ABC Chicago station WLS reported.
Ward was on probation when the shooting occurred, Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Brian Holmes said Monday, describing him as "a sociopath," WLS reported.
Pendleton's mother, Cleopatra Cowley, gave an impassioned statement in court during the sentencing hearing, asking the judge for the "maximum penalty that the law will allow."
"This has been hell," she said.
Cowley described her daughter as "a very wise young lady" and "beautiful in every way."
"Her habits were beautiful. Her heart was beautiful," Cowley said. "She was the type of person that wanted to be the friend to someone with no friends. Not only did she befriend people, she made them feel like they were her only one. Do you know how special someone has to be to pull that off? That was Hadiya."
Cowley said her daughter was beginning to dream about going to college, studying abroad and had explored becoming a veterinarian or journalist. The "avid reader," who loved books about vampires, had just discovered a new series just before she was killed, her mother said.
Pendleton's murder ripped her family apart, Cowley said.
"Never in my existence did I think that my baby, my baby girl who gave meaning to my life, never in a million years did I think someone would come cause her harm," she said.
Cowley said she loathes Ward "and his very existence," calling him selfish and saying, "he had every opportunity, given all the other crimes he committed, to do better and be better."
"I have no sympathy for him whatsoever, nor his family," she said. "To be frank, it’s because they’ll never understand the hell that we’ve been living."
The teen's murder made national headlines, with then-first lady Michelle Obama attending her funeral. Pendleton had performed at then-President Barack Obama's inaugural parade a few days before she was killed.
During Ward's trial, his mother and grandmother testified that he adhered to his innocence, according to WLS. A video of Ward confessing to police, saying Williams forced him to fire into the park, played a key role in the prosecution's case, according to WLS.
Prosecutors said Williams was the getaway driver while Ward was the gunman in the "drive-by" shooting.
A motion for a new trial filed by Ward's attorneys was denied, the station reported.