The indictment against Jason Van Dyke explained

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Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke at his trial for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool/File photo

Editor’s Note: As Van Dyke’s trial began in earnest, prosecutors moved to dismiss the first four murder counts, a streamlining of the indictment that is not uncommon in criminal case.

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke is charged in a 23-count criminal indictment handed up by a grand jury in 2017 revolving around the Oct. 20, 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald.

The veteran officer faces six counts of first-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm and one count of official misconduct.

Though it may seem unusual that Van Dyke faces six counts of murder over one death, veteran defense lawyer Terry Ekl told the Chicago Sun-Times that is actually “very, very normal.” That’s because each count is charged under a different legal theory. It’s not yet clear how many of those counts the judge or jury will consider.

The charges allege either that Van Dyke “intentionally or knowingly” shot and killed McDonald, or that he shot McDonald knowing it created a “strong probability” of death or great bodily harm.

If convicted, Van Dyke could face up to life in prison.

Here is the language in the six first-degree murder counts:

1. Alleges that Van Dyke, “without lawful justification, intentionally or knowingly shot and killed Laquan McDonald while armed with a firearm.”

2. Alleges that Van Dyke, “without lawful justification, shot and killed Laquan McDonald while armed with a firearm, knowing that such act created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to Laquan McDonald.”

3. Alleges that Van Dyke, “without lawful justification, intentionally or knowingly shot and killed Laquan McDonald while armed with a firearm and during the commission of the offense he personally discharged a firearm.”

4. Alleges that Van Dyke, “without lawful justification, shot and killed Laquan McDonald while armed with a firearm, knowing that such act created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to Laquan McDonald and during the commission of the offense he personally discharged a firearm.”

5. Alleges that Van Dyke, “without lawful justification, intentionally or knowingly shot and killed Laquan McDonald while armed with a firearm and during the commission of the offense he personally discharged a firearm that proximately caused death.

6. Alleges that Van Dyke, “without lawful justification, shot and killed Laquan McDonald while armed with a firearm, knowing that such act created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to Laquan McDonald and during the commission of the offense he personally discharged a firearm that proximately caused death.”

To prove Van Dyke guilty of one of these counts, prosecutors will most crucially be required to find that Van Dyke shot McDonald “without lawful justification.” Key to that argument will be Illinois’ law on the use of deadly force by police.

Van Dyke also faces one aggravated battery count for each of the 16 times he shot McDonald. The punishment for that charge is up to 30 years in prison.

Finally, the official misconduct charge alleges that Van Dyke, “being a public officer or employee or special government agent while in his official capacity knowingly committed an act which he knew that he was forbidden by law to perform, to with: he shot and killed Laquan McDonald without lawful justification.”

If convicted on that count, he faces up to five years in prison.

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