By Erick Johnson
A sociology professor who was paid $12,000 to conduct a study on the impact of excessive media publicity on potential jurors in the Laquan McDonald trial was grilled on the witness stand Friday in a last ditch effort to convince a Cook County judge to move the proceedings outside of Chicago.
A Sept. 5 trial date has been set for Jason Van Dyke, whose attorney has requested a change of venue or relocation to another city.
But Friday, August 3 turned out to be a long day at the Creighton Criminal Courthouse where an extensive study on pretrial publicity was challenged by a team of prosecutors. The prosecutors were presented copies of newspaper articles on the shooting, looked at images and watched several videos of the case on local television newscasts. There was also a screening of a music video by rapper Vic Mensa and even a 2016 political television advertisement by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Fox, showing how her predecessor Anita Alvarez sat on the case for 13 months before charging Officer Van Duke for first degree murder.
Dyke remained stoic and at times looked away as videos of protests and footage of him shooting McDonald 16 times four years ago were shown before Judge Vincent Gaughan.
The screening was part of an argument by the lead Defense Attorney Dan Herbert who put Bryan Edelman on the witness stand. Edelman is a sociology professor who conducted a study to convince Guaghan that excessive media publicity of the McDonald case will make it impossible for Van Dyke to get a fair trial in Chicago.
“As this court knows, every defendant that comes through this courtroom is entitled to a fair trial,” Herbert said in his opening argument.
On the witness stand Edelman said he polled residents from Cook County, 200 residents from Lake County and 200 from Madison County.
Among Edelman’s findings: 87 percent of resident from Cook County believe that Van Dyke is guilty of using excessive force against McDonald; 67 percent of Cook County residents believe that it would be difficult for the defense to prove Van Dyke’s innocence. And, 90 percent of those polled in Cook County believed that Van Dyke was not in danger when he shot McDonald 16 times in October 2014.
Edelman’s findings also revealed significantly fewer residents believe Van Dyke is guilty of using excessive force in Lake and Madison County. Edelman said all of the people polled were identified as eligible jurors for his study.
Edelman’s report also included social media coverage of the case, including numerous negative comments on Facebook that show angry sentiment against Van Dyke.
Hebert said video of McDonald’s shooting had been viewed more than 4 million times on YouTube.
“Recognition of this case is very high,” Edelman testified. “People have a broad amount of knowledge in this case and the presumption of innocence has been undermined.”
During cross-examination, Edelman often answered yes or no questions with long-winded questions. One prosecutor questioned Edelman why he did not present the positive and neutral comments that were also in his report. Hebert objected to the questioning but Gaughan overruled him, allowing the prosecutor to read a string of comments where residents said they knew nothing about the case or did not know enough to answer the polling question.
With 5.2 million residents in Cook County, prosecutors argue that the odds are still good there are unbiased individuals among the 3.9 million residents who are eligible to serve as jurors.
There have been only two cases in Chicago history where a special decision was made to ensure defendants received a fair trial. In 1967, the trial of Richard Speck, which was moved to Peoria. During the Chicago trial of serial killer John Wayne Gacy in 1980, jurors were selected from Winnebago County.