Lawyers for the Chicago Police officer charged with the murder of Laquan McDonald say that the publicity surrounding the case has made it impossible for Jason Van Dyke to get a fair trial in front of Cook County jurors.
Van Dyke’s motion for a change of venue, filed in March but unsealed only this week by Judge Vincent Gaughan, includes nearly 600 pages of press releases and news articles, sections of reports from the U.S. Department of Justice and a mayoral police reform task force — all of which Van Dyke’s attorneys say are evidence of a “massive flood of pretrial publicity” that would taint potential jurors.
Video from a police dashboard camera showing Van Dyke shoot the 17-year-old McDonald 16 times in October 2014 had been viewed 4 million times, and the furor over the video prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to call the shooting “hideous.” City officials in 2015 also released the full investigative file on the shooting, the motion states.
“It can be argued that there is no case in history that presents a more compelling example of the necessity for a change of place of trial,” the motion states.
Defense lawyers said they also will add to their motion a report from a California-based consultant, who has spent six months analyzing news coverage of McDonald shooting and polling residents of Cook and the collar counties.
The motion also takes several swipes at former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who in 2015 announced her office was filing first-degree murder charges against Van Dyke, on the same day city officials released video of the shooting. Alvarez used Van Dyke’s indictment in campaign mailers, and a subordinate noted in an email that it would be bad publicity for Alvarez if the shooting video was released and Van Dyke wasn’t charged.
Alvarez, who lost her re-election bid, turned over the Van Dyke case to a special prosecutor, Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon. McMahon, who was appointed special prosecutor in 2016, filed a new indictment against Van Dyke, adding 16 counts of aggravated battery alongside counts of first-degree murder and official misconduct.
Still, motions to move a trial to another jurisdiction are seldom granted, and the defense team’s expert said in court in April that even after conducting his thorough analysis of press coverage and public sentiment, he almost always finds that a few additional interview questions for prospective jurors can weed out bias.
No date yet has been set for the trial, but a deadline set at a hearing Thursday for Judge Gaughan to rule on the change of venue motion would seem to point to a start no sooner than this fall. Filings on the motion for change of venue are not due until July 30, with a ruling by Gaughan unlikely before August. Court officials have said it might take as long as 10 weeks to send out the required summons to assemble a larger-than-usual pool of jurors, pushing the potential start of the trial into October.