In one of the most polarizing criminal cases in the history of the Windy City, Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty Friday of second-degree murder for the 2014 shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
From inside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Chicago’s south side, jurors weighed evidence following a 21-day trial, deliberating only eight hours before delivering a verdict.
Jury selection began Sept. 10; the trial began on September 17.
During the course of the trial, jurors heard testimony from 24 prosecution witnesses over five days. Rebutting the prosecution, defense attorneys representing Van Dyke put 20 witnesses on the stand over a five-day period.
At trial, prosecutors attempted to paint Van Dyke as a an over-aggressive officer who was not threatened by the armed teen. In contrast, when the defense presented its case, attorneys claimed McDonald was armed, refused lawful commands to disarm himself, and demonstrated unpredictable behavior.
After appealing for a change of venue, defense attorneys opted for a jury trial. Taking the stand in his defense, Van Dyke testified, sometimes emotionally, and expressed regret for the shooting, but consistently stated he feared for his life and the lives of fellow officers.
Shortly after 2 p.m. CDT, the foreman read the guilty verdict, as Van Dyke and his attorneys sat motionless.
Although Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder and guilty on 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, he was cleared on a sole count of official misconduct.
Following final arguments Thursday, Judge Gaughan issued instructions to the jury, reminding them Van Dyke could be found guilty of second-degree murder if Van Dyke believed he was acting reasonably when confronting McDonald, but lethal force was unjustified.
Following the verdict, the judge presiding over the trial, Vincent Gaughan, revoked Mr. Van Dyke’s bail and ordered him to remain jail. Van Dyke is scheduled to be sentenced later this month.
A case which stirred racial tension and reignited calls for police reform, on October 20, 2014, Van Dyke and his partner responded to a call on South Pulaski of an armed teen. Confronting McDonald, Van Dyke stepped from his vehicle, ordered the teen to drop the weapon and fired.
For over one year, the incident, which had been captured on police dash cam video, remained buried, and stirred anger among Chicago’s black community demanding answers for the shooting.
Following a court case, the city was ordered to release the video, touching off days of protests. Months later, Mayor Rahm Emanuel barely survived reelection and the state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, was swept from office.
After the verdict, Van Dyke defense attorney Daniel Herbert told reporters it was a “sad day” for police, and the verdict would eventually force police to pause when police vigilance was critical.
“Police officers are going to become security guards,” Herbert said.
After the courtroom cleared, reporters speaking to anonymous jurors described deliberations dominated over whether Van Dyke was guilty of first or second-degree murder, not over guilt or innocence.
Commenting on the outcome of the case, Chicago social activist Michael Pfleger declared the verdict a victory for justice: “Today we had justice for Laquan McDonald, and a score for justice in Chicago, we thank God for the victory!”[AP] [Block Club Chicago] [Photo courtesy Getty Images via Seattle Times]