Chicago police

CHICAGO — A 15-year-old girl who performed in President Barack Obama’s inauguration festivities is the latest face on the ever-increasing homicide toll in the president’s hometown, killed in a Chicago park as she talked with friends by a gunman who apparently was not even aiming at her.

Chicago police said Hadiya Pendleton was in a park about a mile from Obama’s home in a South Side neighborhood Tuesday afternoon when a man opened fire on the group. Hadiya was shot in the back as she tried to escape.

The city’s 42nd slaying of the year is part of Chicago’s bloodiest January in more than a decade, following on the heels of 2012, which ended with more than 500 homicides for the first time since 2008. It also comes at a time when Obama, spurred by the Connecticut elementary school massacre in December, is actively pushing for tougher gun laws.

Hadiya’s father, Nathaniel Pendleton, spoke Wednesday at a Chicago police news conference, which was held in the same park where his daughter died.

“He took the light of my life,” Pendleton said. He then spoke directly to the killer: “Look at yourself, just know that you took a bright person, an innocent person, a nonviolent person.” Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy consoled him, the girl’s mother and 10-year-old brother.

Hadiya was a bright kid who was killed just as she was “wondering about which lofty goal she wanted to achieve,” her godfather, Damon Stewart, told The Associated Press. Hadiya had been a majorette with the King College Prep band.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that the president and the first lady’s “thoughts and prayers are with” the teen’s family, adding: “And as the president has said, we will never be able to eradicate every act of evil in this country, but if we can save any one child’s life, we have an obligation to try when it comes to the scourge of gun violence.”

In Chicago, gangs routinely and often indiscriminately open fire.

CHICAGO — In Chicago, a bustling urban metropolis where skyscrapers are as likely to sprout up as anything a farmer might plant, someone decided there was just enough room to grow something a little more organic: Marijuana.

On Wednesday, a day after the discovery of the largest marijuana farm anyone at the police department can remember, officers became farmers for a day as they began to chop down about 1,500 marijuana plants that police said could have earned the growers as much as $10 million.

No arrests had been made as of Wednesday, and police were still trying to determine who owns the property that housed the grow site on the city’s far South Side. But police said they were hopeful that because of the size of the operation, informants or others might provide tips about those involved, including a man seen running from the area as the helicopter swooped low.

 

CHICAGO — An Illinois Supreme Court ruling that gave one inmate new hope for freedom Thursday also could revive appeals by more than a dozen others who claim they confessed to crimes under torture by Chicago police officers, defense attorneys said.

Justices ruled Stanley Wrice can continue seeking a new hearing on evidence that officers beat him with a flashlight and rubber hose until he confessed to a brutal rape. Prosecutors contend they had proof to convict him of the 1982 crime, even without the confession.

Wrice, 57, is serving a 100-year sentence for a crime he insists he didn’t commit. He’s among dozens of men — almost all of them black — who have claimed since the 1970s that former Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge and his officers used torture to secure confessions in crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder. Allegations persisted until the 1990s at police stations on the city’s South and West sides.

While several of the incarcerated men with torture claims have been released, Wrice’s case could have far-reaching impact on how Illinois deals with such cases in the future. Defense attorneys say the decision in the Wrice case adds new momentum to their efforts to have their client’s convictions thrown out.

The court didn’t order new evidentiary hearings for the men as attorneys had sought in an amicus brief. But defense attorney Locke Bowman, who represents other men with torture claims, said the “opinion points the way forward for the other Burge victims.”

Allegations of abuse and torture have plagued the police department in the nation’s third-largest city for decades and were a factor in former Gov. George Ryan’s decision to institute a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000. Gov. Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty in Illinois last year.

An appeals court had sided with Wrice, ruling that he should be granted a new hearing on his claim that Burge’s officers used a flashlight and rubber hose to beat him in the face and groin.

The high court ruled that the appeals court skipped a procedural step in granting the evidentiary hearing but that the trial court was also wrong not to allow his post-conviction case to proceed. The ruling paves the way for a new hearing and perhaps a new trial.

Andrew Levine, special assistant prosecutor, said his office is still reviewing its legal options — including asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

“That’s definitely one of the options,” he said.