As a jury began deliberating whether to convict him of murder Thursday, Jason Van Dyke got one piece of bad news after another.
Around 3 p.m., about three hours after closing arguments ended, he left the courthouse after he learned his daughter had been threatened at school, he said.
A little over an hour later, he was racing back to the courtroom, summoned by Judge Vincent Gaughan to weigh in on a question from the jury. When he arrived a few minutes late, Gaughan threatened to revoke his bail and have him locked up.
After the jury was dismissed for the day, Van Dyke, 40, got more bad news — but some good news, too.
The bad news: a man and a woman who sat in the jury box through three weeks of his trial said they would have voted him guilty or were leaning that way.
The good news for Van Dyke: they won’t get to vote — both were alternate jurors who spoke to reporters after the judge sequestered their peers and dismissed them from the case.
“Definitely, definitely,” said one of the dismissed jurors, a Latino truck driver who asked that his name not be used. “I would have said guilty.” His son-in-law is a Chicago cop.
The second juror, a white woman who works in marketing for a large law firm, said she “leaned toward” a guilty verdict, because Van Dyke was the only officer among the 10 at the scene who fired a shot.
“The fact that there were other officers who encountered, him, Laquan McDonald that night, and they didn’t feel the need to use deadly force,” made up her mind, she said.
The jury got the case about 1 p.m. Thursday after hearing two hours of closing arguments. About 5 p.m., the judge announced that the jury wanted a transcript of the testimony of Van Dyke’s partner, Joseph Walsh. Walsh gave a dramatic re-enactment of the allegedly menacing move that McDonald made before Van Dyke shot him.
The judge approved giving jurors the transcript. Two jurors also asked for a cigarette break. The jury of eight women and four men, plus three alternates, are being sequestered until they reach a verdict and were sent to a hotel for the night about 5:30 p.m.
The charges they will consider against Van Dyke are two counts of first-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery, and a count of official misconduct.
Jurors also were instructed that they could find Van Dyke guilty on the lesser charge of second-degree murder, instead of first-degree — first-degree murder carries a sentence up to life in prison; second-degree murder sentences range from probation up to 20 years. Asked by reporters if he would have considered second-degree murder, the male alternate juror said no. The woman said “it’s obviously something that would have had to been discussed.”
In their closings, Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon and Assistant Special Prosecutor Jody Gleason hammered away at the comment Van Dyke made to his partner in their squad car before they had first laid eyes on McDonald — ”Oh my God, we’re going to have to shoot the guy” — first revealed during the trial this week.
“Laquan McDonald was never going to walk home that night,” Gleason said. “The defendant decided that on the way to the scene. You heard what it was that he said: ‘I guess we’ll have to shoot him.’ It wasn’t the knife in Laquan’s hand that made the defendant kill him that night. It was his indifference to the value of Laquan’s life.”
The two sides battled over videos shown to jurors, including the dashcam footage of McDonald’s shooting. Defense attorney Dan Herbert said that video was as good as the prosecutors’ case got. From there, he said, it “went downhill.”
Not only that, Herbert called the video “essentially meaningless, based upon all the testimony.”
“It shows a perspective, but not the right perspective,” Herbert said, suggesting that Van Dyke’s view as McDonald approached him was the only one that mattered.
In the final word from the prosecution, McMahon tried to turn an expensive, digitally animated re-creation of the shooting from the defense against Van Dyke. The video does not appear to show McDonald lifting his arms as he approaches Van Dyke. McMahon said even the “biased, self-serving animation shows the indefensible acts of murdering Laquan McDonald.”
The prosecution and defense gave jurors different takes of the testimony of Officer Joseph McElligott, who crossed paths with McDonald before Van Dyke and said he was trying to buy time until an officer could arrive with a Taser. Meanwhile, McDonald attacked the police vehicle being driven by his partner, stabbing its tire and slashing its windshield.
Herbert said McDonald “raised the threat level” with McElligott. But McMahon said McElligott showed “patience” during an encounter with McDonald that was “more confrontational than what Jason Van Dyke faced.”
“This proves it was not necessary to shoot Laquan McDonald,” McMahon said.
Finally, Herbert insisted that McDonald “was killed with that first or second shot as he was turned to face Jason Van Dyke with his knife raised, ready to attack.”
“The rest of those shots — irrelevant,” Herbert said.
But Gleason said McDonald bled to death and “needed every drop of blood in his body.”
“Each one of those shots is a crime,” Gleason said.