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Judge: Laquan McDonald’s mother doesn’t get to duck subpoena, attend trial

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke walks into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, in Chicago Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014. Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times

Laquan McDonald’s mother has avoided subpoenas as the trial nears for the Chicago police officer charged with murdering her son — so far.

But on Tuesday, the judge presiding over the case said Tina Hunter will not be allowed to attend the trial of Jason Van Dyke if she doesn’t appear for a hearing as sought by the officer’s defense team.

“Tell her she’s not going to come to the trial unless she appears,” Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan said.

Hunter also failed to appear at a hearing last month that could have determined whether she takes the stand at Van Dyke’s trial, which is set for Sept. 5. Van Dyke’s lawyers apparently want to question her about her son’s history of violent behavior.

Laquan McDonald | provided
Laquan McDonald | provided

She is among several witnesses Van Dyke’s team hopes to call to testify about McDonald’s “propensity for violence” — evidence that could support a claim that Van Dyke acted in self-defense when he shot the 17-year-old McDonald 16 times.

Hunter could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. Though her name was not mentioned in open court during the hearing last month, lawyers and the judge spoke openly about Hunter on Tuesday.

Gaughan also told Van Dyke’s lawyers they had not properly served Hunter with the subpoena because a server had yet to put it directly in her hands.

Still, he said Hunter won’t be allowed to keep ducking the subpoena and then later attend the trial.

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 McDonald had multiple run-ins with the law before the night he was fatally shot. McDonald was seen on dashcam video walking away from officers before he was killed.

In closed hearings, the defense has called staff from the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, presumably to talk about violent acts McDonald committed while in custody.

Gaughan would likely also close the hearing if lawyers manage to put Hunter on the stand.

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. 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 racked 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.

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

Contributing: Andy Grimm