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Judge pushes for Van Dyke trial to start this summer

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, foreground, stands in front of Judge Vincent Gaughan at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. | Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/Pool

The trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke – who is charged with Laquan McDonald’s murder – will begin this summer if Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan has his way.

At a status hearing on Wednesday, Gaughan expressed impatience with the pace of the case, now nearly 2 1/2 years removed from when Van Dyke was charged.

Gaughan, a veteran judge who presided over the child pornography trial of R&B superstar R. Kelly and trials of both defendants charged in the Brown’s Chicken massacre, has in recent months repeatedly expressed a desire to move forward.

Van Dyke was charged in November 2015 by then State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez after dashcam footage of the officer firing 16 shots at 17-year-old McDonald was released by city officials.

Alvarez agreed to pass the case to a special prosecutor before she lost her bid for reelection in 2016.

The case was eventually assigned to Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon.

Where the trial will take place remains an open question, as Van Dyke’s lawyers on Wednesday filed their motion for a change of venue.

Gaughan has quizzed court officials about the logistics of assembling an extra-large jury pool for the trial, in apparent anticipation of difficulties in finding jurors who have not heard about the shooting.

County officials have said it may take as long as 10 weeks to mail the required number of jury summons needed to assemble a pool of 200 or more jurors.

Gaughan has not tipped his hand as to where he believes the case should take place, but he did voice a concern that he wanted good weather for the trial, possibly implying that some jurors may have long commutes outside the county.

The judge on Wednesday expressed impatience with defense attorneys who had who had yet to provide results of opinion polling done by a consultant.

Gaughan also seemed annoyed about the prospect of a protracted debate over the release of court materials in the case that have been kept under seal.

News outlets, including the Chicago Sun-Times, filed a motion to intervene in the case to gain access to the records.

Lawyers for both sides have objected to the public release of at least 70 of some 105 documents filed so far in the case.

“We have to focus on the path to get this thing to trial, and we can’t be looking at side streets,” Gaughan said, as lawyers for the news outlets attempted to plead their case.

“Right now we have a path, it may not be the perfect path, but this is the one right now.”