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Would harsher sentencing have saved Hadiya Pendleton?

A suspect in the shooting of 15-year old Hadiya Pendleton, who participated in Obama's inauguration, was on probation for a gun-related charge. Chicago officials want tougher sentencing.

By Staff writer / February 13, 2013

Cleopatra (2nd from r.) and Nathanial Pendelton, parents of slain teen Hadiya Pendelton, who marched in President Obama's inauguration ceremony and was killed days later in Chicago, await Mr. Obama's State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday.

Jason Reed/Reuters

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Chicago

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Obama mentioned 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, the girl who participated at his inauguration festivities and was gunned down near his Chicago home three weeks ago, to push for a vote on gun-control legislation in Congress.

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In Chicago, however, Hadiya’s name is being connected with a different cause. Officials here are pointing to weak sentencing rules, saying alleged gunman Michael Ward, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to a weapons charge and was on probation, never should have been on the streets. They are pushing for the expansion of mandatory minimum sentencing.

“This incident didn’t have to occur,” said Chicago Police Department Superintendent Gerry McCarthy at a news conference Monday. “If mandatory minimums existed in the state of Illinois, Michael Ward would not have been in the state to complete this heinous act.”

But legal experts say mandatory minimums are not necessarily designed to keep gun offenders off the streets, and that the perils of expanding them – especially to minors, as Mr. Ward was in 2012 – could outweigh the benefits.

“We really want to make sure they [minors] finish high school,” says John Paitakes, a criminal justice professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., and a former probation officer. “One risk of getting someone too far into the system is they are going to get more criminalized. So the best chance of reducing adult crime is to deal with juveniles and divert and prevent them from adult crime.”

The issue has great urgency in Chicago because homicides here surpassed 500 last year. Police say Hadiya’s death was part of a three-year battle between two gang factions. Ward and Kenneth Williams, who police say are members of a Gangster Disciples splinter group, mistook the group that Hadiya was with as a rival gang. Both men were charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and remain in custody.

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