Chicago waits for verdict in Jason Van Dyke Trial

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Empty jury box area readied for members of the jury in the courtroom of Judge Vincent Gaughan at the Leighton Criminal Court Building Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018. Courtroom readied for the trial of Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke concerning the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. (Antonio Perez/ pool photographer/Chicago Tribune)

Chicago Police Department adds 4,000 officers to help patrol city

Crusader staff report

Jurors on Thursday, October 4 began deliberating after both sides in the Jason Van Dyke trial ended their closing arguments before a packed courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on the West Side.

As Chicago and the nation wait to see whether Officer Van Dyke will be convicted of first degree murder for shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times, the Chicago Police Department announced that it added 4,000 to patrol the streets starting Thursday.

The department has canceled days off and put officers on 12-hour shifts as part of a 116-page operation plan that police officials say has been in the works for month.

Starting at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, police officers normally dispersed between three watches were instead assigned to one of two, 12-hour-tours: 7 a.m.-to-7 p.m. and 7 p.m.-to-7 a.m. Officials said specialized units have staggered starting times throughout the day, “depending on operational developments.”

It’s all part of a 116-page operational plan that “accounts for nearly any possible circumstance” and has been in the works for months, officials said.

But all eyes are on the 12-member jury who retreated to the deliberation room after prosecutors and defense attorneys made their closing arguments. This comes after weeks of testimonies and video presentations.

Van Dyke faces life in prison if jurors convict him of first degree murder. For this to happen, all 12 jurors must unanimously agree that Van Dyke was not justified in killing the teenager. The jurors will be sequestered if they do not reach a verdict today.

But Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan told jurors before they began deliberations that they may find Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder.

It was one of several instructions that Gaughan read to jurors as a routine part of the trial proceedings.

Gaughan told the jurors that they must first find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Van Dyke committed first-degree murder by deciding that the officer was not justified in using deadly force when he killed McDonald.

But Gaughan told them that if they believe that prosecutors proved that Van Dyke committed first-degree murder, they must consider whether, by a lower burden of proof, a mitigating factor has been proven. Gaughan told the jurors that they can consider whether Van Dyke believed that the use of deadly force to be justified under the circumstances but that his belief was unreasonable.

The jury is expected to be sequestered if they do not reach a verdict Thursday.

In his closing arguments Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahaon said, “We’re here because Jason Van Dyke didn’t value the life of Laquan McDonald enough to do anything but shoot him.”

Then McMahon said, “In fact, we know defendant Jason Van Dyke was contemplating shooting Laquan before he even arrived. Before he ever laid eyes on Laquan McDonald.”

McMahon gave the jurors four reasons why Van Dyke claimed he killed Laquan McDonald.

He said those reason include that McDonald had a knife, that he was within 12 to 15 feet of Van Dyke, that he ignored Van Dyke’s orders to drop the knife, and that he had “big bulging eyes and looked right at him.”

McMahon said based on those four reasons, Van Dyke said it was necessary to shoot and continue to shoot McDonald until he was “motionless” on the ground.

McMahon pointed to the statement Van Dyke said he made to his partner Joe Walsh as they were going to the scene.  It was “Oh my god, we’re going to have to shoot this guy.”

McMahon told jurors, “you know now that Jason Van Dyke was already asking why somebody didn’t shoot Laquan McDonald before he even arrived on the scene.”

After telling jurors that there were at least 10 officers on the scene waiting for an officer with a Taser to arrive, McMahon said,“Before he made any attempt to assess the situation himself, he made the decision to shoot as soon as he heard Laquan was defying the orders to stop and drop the knife,” McMahon said. “He chose not to wait and see how other police officers who were already on the scene — some for minutes — how they were handling the situation.”

But McMahon did acknowledge that McDonald was “respecting the authority of the police department,” but still said Van Dyke’s “decision to fire that first shot was completely unnecessary.”

In his closing argument, Defense Attorney Dan Herbert said, “the video is not enough” and after it was shown, “Their case, from there, went downhill.”  Herbert said the police video that captured the shooting “is essentially meaningless based upon all the testimony. It shows a perspective, but not the right perspective.”

Herbert said the state’s witness, Officer Joseph McElligott, acknowledged that McDonald’s behavior “raised the threat level.” Hebert said McDonald had a pattern of attacking when confronted. Hebert said these points created a “reasonable doubt” in the case.

“The threat level is rising each and every time,” Herbert said.

Herbert also pointed to comments by Urey Patrick, the state’s use-of-force expert who noted that Patrick said police do not have to give a person they are confronting “a fair chance,” and that police continue to use deadly force until they “perceive” the threat has ended.

Herbert also attempted to dispel the belief that race was a factor in the shooting. He paraphrased a comment made by prosecutors during their opening argument: “Jason was angry at the young Black boy.”

“Remember that in opening?” Herbert said. “Did you see any evidence that race had anything to do with this case? When you don’t have evidence, you use argument.”

 

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