Black juror on Van Dyke testifying in his own defense: ‘He messed up’

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Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s mugshot taken after he was found guilty in the Laquan McDonald shooting. | Provided photo

4:14 p.m. ‘Laquan McDonald was not a throwaway young man’

Special Prosecutor Joe McMahon praised the jury’s verdict Friday.

This is a gratifying verdict,” McMahon said. “This verdict holds Jason Van Dyke accountable.”

“But we all know that this verdict doesn’t bring back Laquan McDonald.”

“Laquan McDonald was not a throwaway young man.”

3:20 p.m. ‘He messed up’

The sole African-American juror on the Jason Van Dyke murder trial said Friday afternoon that the officer “messed up” by testifying and she didn’t find him believable.

The woman, who did not want to be identified by name, was among several jurors being interviewed by reporters after the verdict.

“He messed up,” she said. “His testimony wasn’t credible to me. I felt that he was trying to remember stuff that he said that maybe wasn’t true.”

Jurors repeatedly described feeling that Van Dyke’s testimony as “rehearsed.”

There appears to have been some initial disagreement between jurors on whether to convict on first-degree and second-degree murder, but jurors resolved it Friday morning, the woman said.

A female juror said a changing point for many of the jurors was when it was revealed that Van Dyke said to his partner that they might have to shoot McDonald, even before they got out of their police vehicle.

While the black juror said that an acquittal was never on the table, another female juror indicated that there was initially two votes for not guilty.

Jurors also explained why they found Van Dyke not guilty of official misconduct: he had a legal right to use a gun as a police officer.

2 p.m. Guilty of second-degree murder

A Cook County jury has found Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder in the 2014 fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, but not the more serious charge of first-degree murder.

The jury also found Van Dyke guilty of all 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for every shot he fired at the 17-year-old McDonald — but found him not guilty of official misconduct.

The judge revoked Van Dyke’s bail, and after briefly speaking to his attorney, Van Dyke stood, put his hands behind his back, and the veteran Chicago police officer was taken into custody.

Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke, left, is taken into custody Friday after jurors found him guilty of second-degree murder and aggravated battery in the 2014 shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. | Antoni

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, left, is taken into custody Friday after jurors found him guilty of second-degree murder and aggravated battery in the 2014 shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool photo

As the verdict was read, Van Dyke was stoic and showed no emotion. Eventually, he reached for a nearly-empty bottle of water and took a swig. His wife, Tiffany, was red-eyed but not crying and remained in her seat as people filed out of the courtroom.

Later, Tiffany Van Dyke was able to briefly visit with her husband, who was described as being in “a fog” by one of his defense attorneys.

Car horns and whoops of celebration could be heard outside the courthouse soon after the verdict was announced.

Prominent activist and mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green said, “Today is a step in the right direction. Or course we wanted first-degree murder but we got second-degree murder. Jason Van dyke needs to go to jail for the rest of his life.”

Illinois Fraternal Order of Police State Lodge President Chris Southwood blasted the verdict in a statement.

“This is a day I never thought I’d see in America, where 12 ordinary citizens were duped into saving the asses of self-serving politicians at the expense of a dedicated public servant,” said Southwood.

Kevin Graham, president Chicago’s FOP, said in a news conference that Van Dyke would definitely appeal.

“Jason faces a rough road ahead but he’s not standing alone,” Graham said.

Van Dyke faces as little as probation or up to 20 years in prison on the second-degree murder charge. When the jury makes a finding of second-degree murder it typically means that jurors determined that Van Dyke may have been in fear for his life at the time he shot McDonald, but the fear wasn’t reasonable.

Each count of aggravated battery carries a sentence of six to 30 years in prison, and time Van Dyke would have to serve can add up quickly, as the sentences can be served consecutively— back to back — rather than concurrently, or running simultaneously.

The jury reached its verdict after about seven hours of deliberations that began after three weeks of testimony by 40 witnesses. They saw gruesome autopsy photos, a high-tech digital re-creation of the shooting, and the infamous dashcam video that riled Chicago for years with its images of McDonald’s final moments.

They also saw Van Dyke, 40, take the witness stand in a high-risk move. And they listened as he told them what he saw during his fatal confrontation with McDonald.

“His face had no expression,” Van Dyke said in his emotional testimony. “His eyes were just bugging out of his head. He had just these huge white eyes, just staring right through me.”

Van Dyke went on to say that, after McDonald fell the ground after a first volley of shots, “I could see him starting to push up, with his left hand, off the ground. I see his left shoulder start to come up. I still see him holding that — that knife with his right hand, not letting go of it. And his eyes are still bugged out. His face has got no expression on it.”

Moments before he took the stand, a psychologist hired by the defense revealed that Van Dyke made a striking comment to his partner as he listened to police radio traffic as they drove to confront McDonald: “Oh my God, we’re going to have to shoot the guy.”

Prosecutors hammered away at that comment in closing arguments Thursday.

“Laquan McDonald was never going to walk home that night,” Assistant Special Prosecutor Jody 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.”

Though the case has long been framed along racial lines, those themes emerged only a few times throughout the trial. In opening statements, Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon said Van Dyke saw McDonald as “a black boy walking down the street on Pulaski, toward a chain-link fence and having the audacity to ignore the police.”

When he later gave his closing argument in Van Dyke’s defense, lawyer Dan Herbert asked jurors, “you see any evidence of that?”

“Did you see any evidence that race had anything to do with this case?” He went on with a dig at prosecutors: “When you don’t have evidence, you use argument.”

This all played out in front of a jury of eight women and four men, including a young Latina woman applying to be a Chicago police officer and a white woman with family connections to Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan. Only one African-American, a woman, sat on the jury.

Their verdict amounts to a watershed moment that follows years of political and legal wrangling over police reform in Chicago. It’s a conversation that has arguably lasted decades but reached a fever pitch when Van Dyke was first charged with McDonald’s murder.

Van Dyke’s trial is now destined for mention alongside other key Chicago police controversies, including the face-off with demonstrators outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the 1969 police shooting of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, and decades of alleged torture committed by the so-called midnight crew overseen by Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge — who died during Van Dyke’s trial.

The charges against Van Dyke were filed in November 2015, following an order by a Cook County judge that dashcam footage of the shooting be released.

Protesters soon spilled into the streets as anger boiled over in communities with residents who feel police act with disregard for the lives of minorities.

Since then, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has acknowledged a “code of silence” within the Chicago Police Department, and the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation of CPD that found widespread constitutional abuses.

When it became clear President Donald Trump’s administration wouldn’t pursue a federal consent decree to govern reform at CPD, Emanuel and Attorney General Lisa Madigan pursued one on their own.

Negotiations over the consent decree have ended, and a public hearing in federal court is set for later this month. The Fraternal Order of Police has fought to intervene in the case — it is highly critical of a draft of the consent decree — but has so far been unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, three additional officers were charged in a separate criminal case alleging a conspiracy to cover up for Van Dyke after he fatally shot McDonald. One of those officers, Joseph Walsh, testified during Van Dyke’s trial under an immunity deal.

Despite all this, protests outside the Leighton Criminal Court Building, where the trial has been playing out since early September, were sparsely attended most days. Though activists secured a permit to demonstrate every day during the trial, only the first day of jury selection saw a sizable crowd on the lawn in front of the courthouse.

Politically, the upheaval and reform efforts have led to speedier efforts to release footage of police shootings. This summer, after police shot a barber in the South Shore neighborhood and touched off violent protests, CPD wound up releasing footage within 24 hours of the man’s death.

More significant is the shooting’s perceived effect on Emanuel, whose second term was haunted by the McDonald shooting. On the eve of Van Dyke’s trial, Emanuel announced he would not run for re-election and instead begin the next chapter in his life. He said Van Dyke’s trial “had no bearing” on his decision.

With or without Emanuel, the topic of police reform is expected to take center stage in the race for mayor.

1:10 p.m. Judge: ‘Look into your hearts and control your emotion’

Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan said the verdict will be read at 1:45 p.m.

He warned people in the courtroom: “I don’t want anybody to second guess” the jurors.

“Nobody will be allowed to make any outburst or anything else like that,” Gaughan said. He said, “I guarantee, I’m going to arrest you.”

“Look into your hearts and control your emotion,” Gaughan said.

12:42 The jury has reached a verdict in the Jason Van Dyke murder case

The jury is expected to come out in about an hour to announce its decision.

11:42 a.m. Detectives questioning man in connection to threats

Chicago police say they took a man into custody Thursday night after “specific and credible” threats were made to “officers and public officials,” related to the murder trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.

Detectives were still questioning a man Friday morning and expected charges to be filed in the afternoon, police said.

Police couldn’t give more information until charges were approved, CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. He declined to comment if the threats were related to those received by one of Van Dyke’s children on Thursday.

11:04 a.m. Judge sends an answer back to the jury

Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan has sent back an answer to a question by the jury about the 16 aggravated battery charges faced by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.

Jurors asked, “are we to consider counts as, a) how the shots are numbered on the medical examiner chart, or b) the simple number of shots fired?”

The judge said he is telling the jury, “it’s just the simple number of shots fired” in response.

Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon said that answer — option “b” on the juror note — is “the only answer that is consistent” with the indictment and testimony in the trial. But defense attorney Dan Herbert said, “I would object to clarifying this question for them.”

Herbert said “we have already argued about the confusing nature of 16 counts of aggravated battery.”

He added “if the jury’s having problems . . . welcome to our world.”

Gaughan said his note to the jury, despite the objection from the defense, would read, “Dear jury, consider paragraph ‘b.’ Please continue to deliberate. Thank you.”

10:55 a.m. Jurors ask about aggravated battery counts

The jurors in the Jason Van Dyke trial sent a note to the judge Friday morning with a question concerning the 16 aggravated battery counts the officer faces.

They asked, “are we to consider counts as, a) how the shots are numbered on the medical examiner chart, or b) the simple number of shots fired?”

The judge read the note to lawyers and took a recess to let attorneys consider how to respond.

9:55 a.m. Judge decides not to revoke Van Dyke’s bail

Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan declined to revoke Jason Van Dyke’s bond Friday saying, “this time I’m going to let it go.”

He did so after an intense questioning of Van Dyke and his defense attorney, Dan Herbert, who described the threats he said Van Dyke’s daughter experienced at school Thursday.

Herbert said kids at the daughter’s school were asking “which one is Jason Van Dyke’s daughter” and “we are going to get her.” He said they even passed around the girl’s picture.

Gaughan’s questions were intense and angry, and Herbert clearly became irritated himself.

“Judge, this is a real threat,” Herbert said.

7:16 a.m. Jury to resume deliberations Friday morning

The jury is expected to resume its deliberations Friday morning as Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke learns whether his bail will be revoked.

After hearing about two hours of closing arguments Thursday, as well as legal instructions from the judge, the jury got the case about 1 p.m. They ended the day about 5:30 p.m. and were sequestered, along with three alternate jurors.

Two other alternates who were dismissed from the trial told reporters later that they would have voted to convict Van Dyke or were leaning that way. Read more about their comments here.

Van Dyke got into hot water with Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan after he arrived back to court a bit late Thursday afternoon for a court hearing about a jury question. Van Dyke said he was dealing with an issue with one of his children who had been threatened at school. The judge said he wanted proof of the threat at a Friday morning hearing after he threatened to revoke Van Dyke’s bond.

Here’s an analysis of the closing arguments on Thursday by Chicago Sun-Times columnists Mark Brown and Mary Mitchell:


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