clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Defense wants to call Laquan McDonald’s mom as witness in Jason Van Dyke trial

Laquan McDonald | Provided photo

Lawyers for Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke want to call Laquan McDonald’s mother as a witness for the defense in Van Dyke’s murder trial.

Tina Hunter was a no-show at a hearing Friday that could have determined whether she has to take the stand at the trial this fall.

Van Dyke’s lawyers apparently want to question her about her son’s history of violent behavior.

Hunter’s name was not mentioned in open court during the hearing, keeping with Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan’s rules barring the public disclosure of potential witnesses ahead of the trial.

Multiple sources confirmed that Hunter was slated to testify.

Hunter is one of a slate of witnesses the defense team is seeking to call to provide testimony about McDonald’s “propensity for violence” –– evidence that would be used to buttress their case that Van Dyke was acting in self-defense when he opened fire and shot the 17-year-old McDonald 16 times.

Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke, right, with his attorneys Daniel Herbert, left, and Randy Rueckert, listens in during the hearing for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Friday, July 27, 2018. | Antonio P
Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke, right, with his attorneys Daniel Herbert, left, and Randy Rueckert, listens in during the hearing for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Friday, July 27, 2018. | Antonio Perez| Chicago Tribune pool photo

Gaughan has sealed the courtroom during testimony from other potential defense witnesses, and likely would have closed the hearing had Hunter taken the stand.

Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon said “the witness” had child care issues that left her unable to make it to court.

Public records show that Hunter, who received a $5 million settlement from the city, lives in the western suburbs.

Gaughan put the hearing on hold for about an hour before adjourning.

It was not clear whether Hunter is expected to be in court at a hearing in the case set for Tuesday. The Chicago Sun-Times was unable to reach Hunter or her attorney.

The details of McDonald’s short, troubled life appear to be a focal point of the defense case. Juvenile court and social service agency records indicate that McDonald had multiple run-ins with the law before the night he was shot. McDonald was seen on dashcam video walking away from officers before he was killed.

In hearings that have been sealed to the public by the judge, the defense has called staff from the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, presumably to talk about violent acts McDonald committed while in custody.

McDonald’s relationship with his mother was as turbulent as the rest of his life. Hunter was a ward of the state herself when she gave birth to McDonald at age 15, and McDonald was shuttled among foster homes and relatives for much of his early childhood — settings where child welfare authorities investigated multiple allegations of abuse inflicted on the boy. He settled in with his grandmother at age 5, and she remained his guardian until her death about a year before McDonald was killed.

In his early teens, McDonald would rack up arrests for drug possession and was in and out of juvenile detention. It is not clear what violent behavior his mother might testify to.

Even if she does not want to serve as a witness for the man charged with murdering her son, there is little Hunter can do to avoid taking the stand, said Richard Kling, a professor at IIT-Kent Law School.

“There’s no privilege for mothers,” Kling said. “If she’s been subpoenaed, she has to testify. What she would say, well, obviously the defense thinks that there were things the kid said or did to his mother that show he had violent tendencies. Whether that is relevant is for the judge to decide.”