Crusader staff report
Reporters and guests attending a pre-trial hearing of the Laquan McDonald murder case were kicked out of the courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Court building on Friday, May 4.
The move happened at 11:30 a.m. when Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan decided to hold a close-door meeting with the defendant, Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was caught on a dash cam video shooting Laquan 16 times in 2014.
Before the courtroom was closed, several witnesses were expected to speak about Laquan’s past to allow Gaughan to determine how much of their testimony would be allowed in Van Dyke’s trial. According to Illinois law, attorneys can attempt to present evidence that shows a victim’s violent character or history to prove that the defendant acted in self-defense.
Gaughan said closing the courtroom was needed to protect the safety of the witnesses.
“If … someone finds out you’re going to be called as a witness in the Jason Van Dyke trial, it is not without the realm of possibility that you might be ostracized, you might be intimidated and might be harmed,” Gaughan said.
Gaughan has a reputation of holding closed-door meetings that are off limits to the media. This is the first time he has cleared the courtroom to hold a private meeting during a pre-trial hearing.
The pre-trial hearings are now two years old. Last month, Gaughan criticized the defense for taking too long with their case. Gaughan said he wanted the case to go to trial this summer.
Van Dyke’s lawyer has maintained that his client feared for his life. A video that was released a year after the murder shows Van Dyke shooting Laquan as he walked away from police with a knife in his hand. Van Dyke and several other officers contended McDonald lunged at him with the knife, but the video contradicts their accounts.