Van Dyke Trial Day 12: Jurors hear about Laquan McDonald’s troubled past

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

Evidence is done for the day.

2:15 p.m. Prosecutors push back against testimony about McDonald’s past

Prosecutors tried to push back against a series of witnesses called by the defense Monday afternoon to show Laquan McDonald had a history of violent behavior — witnesses that ended testimony for the day.

Miguel DeJesus took the stand to testify about his own physical altercation at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center with McDonald on Jan. 20, 2014. After McDonald was taken into custody that day, he said McDonald told him he was “on the leaf” and “on the pills.” Eventually McDonald became belligerent and hit him.

DeJesus said he was able to pick McDonald up and hold him against a glass partition while a rapid response team showed up to help defuse the situation.

During her cross-examination, Assistant Special Prosecutor Marilyn Hite Ross pointedly asked DeJesus if he knew Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke at the time —and whether he told Van Dyke what happened before Van Dyke shot McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014.

DeJesus said no.

1:50 p.m. Jurors hear about Laquan McDonald’s troubled past

Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke’s defense attorneys used their second witness to begin delving into Laquan McDonald’s troubled past —evidence that could be used to support an argument of self-defense.

Following a lunch break, Joseph Plaud of the Cook County Sheriff’s Department took the stand and described an Aug. 23, 2013, incident involving McDonald in the juvenile court lock-up.

Plaud said he was working at his desk in the lock-up area that day when he heard a bunch of yelling and screaming. A few seconds later, he said, he saw deputies bringing McDonald into the lock-up.

“He was yelling, screaming, swearing, he wasn’t happy at all,” Plaud said.

Plaud also said McDonald spotted another juvenile in the lock-up bullpen and began yelling “what the f—’s wrong what you looking at?” Plaud and his partner began trying to move McDonald to another cell but McDonald kept yelling.

“Basically it was just ‘f— you, I’m not happy to be here, f— you, f— the sheriff’s department, f— the judge,’” Plaud said.

Plaud said his partner kept telling him to calm down. When he said his partner grabbed McDonald’s hand to guide him to another cell, he said McDonald pulled his arm back. Plaud said his partner hit him in the stomach but it didn’t affect McDonald. Plaud and his partner then spent three to five minutes wrestling with McDonald until they finally managed to put handcuffs on him.

12:20 p.m. Defense expert says only one of 16 shots hit McDonald while he was down

After cataloging the 16 wounds documented in the autopsy report, defense expert Dr. Shaku Teas definitively said Monday that only one wound was inflicted while Laquan McDonald was on the ground.

Teas willingness to speculate at the position of McDonald’s body when he was hit by each shot was a sharp contrast to themore circumspect testimony last week by the prosecution’s expert, Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, the Cook County medical examiner. The notion that McDonald was on his feet for more than a few of the first shots appears to contradict the police dashcam video of the shooting and testimony last week from a prosecution ballistics expert.

On the video, McDonald falls to the ground in a little more than a second after the first shot by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. During testimony from an FBI ballistics expert last week, the prosecution played video of an FBI firearms instructor managing to fire 16 shots at a human-sized target in about four seconds. A less-skilled shooter took nearly six seconds.

Teas also was critical of the autopsy, complaining several times that the pathologist did not perform dissections or take additional X-rays to document the path of wounds and the damage done by the bullets.

Pathologist Dr. Shaku Teas testifies Monday as an expert witness for the defense during the Jason Van Dyke murder trial at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool photo

Pathologist Dr. Shaku Teas testifies Monday as an expert witness for the defense during the Jason Van Dyke murder trial at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool photo

11:30 a.m. Forensic pathologist says wound likely killed McDonald within minutes

Of the multiple gunshot wounds Laquan McDonald suffered the night of Oct. 20, 2014, a single shot to the chest that ripped through a major artery likely killed him within minutes, a pathologist hired by lawyers for Jason Van Dyke said Monday.

Dr. Shaku Teas, a former pathologist for the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, was the first witness called Monday, as the defense team opened its case. The testimony looks like it will take jurors though the same set of autopsy photos they saw last week, during some four hours of testimony from Teas’ former colleague at the medical examiner’s office, prosecution witness Dr. Ponni Arunkumar.

Teas offered more categorical answers about whether McDonald was standing or on the ground when he was shot, and which wounds likely caused his death. For Teas, that was the wound listed as No. 4 by the Medical Examiner’s autopsy report, which entered McDonald’s chest on the right side.

“It is my opinion that this is the one that caused Laquan to die so rapidly,” she said, adding later, “I would say that he would be dead within one to five minutes.”

The gunshot likely came while McDonald was on his feet, with his torso turned toward Jason Van Dyke, said Teas.

“This would be consistent with Laquan being turned toward the officer when he was shot,” she said.

Teas opined that while McDonald had a pulse briefly while paramedics first arrived, it was likely just the futile beating of his heart, and that the teen showed only “agonal” breathing.

“It’s breathing like you’re not going to make it. It’s near death,” she said.

Last week, Arunkumar spent around four hours on the stand , cataloging what she said were 24 holes —including 16 entrance wounds —on McDonald’s body, as well as smaller injuries from debris fragments. Defense lawyer Tammy Wendt’s opened with a line of questioning intended to cast doubt on the autopsy results from the Medical Examiner’s office, asking about whether Teas was able to talk with Arunkumar about the autopsy.

Teas said she approached Arunkumar with questions — why a junior pathologist was assigned to perform the autopsy, why toxicology reports were performed by multiple labs at several times.

Such conversations are not unusual, Teas said, but Arunkumar did not want to talk.

“It’s not uncommon, on any case. And I have talked to Dr. Arunkumar on other cases, and she’s been cooperative,” Teas said.

X-rays of Laquan McDonald’s body and a bullet casing are shown on Monday to the jury during the Jason Van Dyke murder trial at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool photo

X-rays of Laquan McDonald’s body and a bullet casing are shown on Monday to the jury during the Jason Van Dyke murder trial at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool photo

7:25 a.m. Will Van Dyke testify?

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s legal team is expected to start his defense on Monday with a series of witnesses, but the looming question is: Will Van Dyke himself testify?

Van Dyke’s team is set to present its own expert on deadly use of force, to counter the prosecution’s witness, who said last week that Van Dyke’s shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014 was not justified.

Van Dyke’s legal team is also expected to show jurors a computer animation that will re-create at least five of the 16 shots that Van Dyke fired at McDonald. The animation will be used to underscore the defense’s point that the now infamous shooting video, already viewed numerous times by the jury during the trial, does not show the shooting and the moments that led up to it from Van Dyke’s perspective.

Also on tap are the defense’s own forensic pathologist testifying about the cause of death of McDonald as well as a ballistics expert.

The key question the defense faces is whether Van Dyke will take the stand to tell the jury what he saw and felt that night. No one can offer a better explanation than Van Dyke. But he faces a likely brutal cross-examination that would demand he explain every single shot he fired at McDonald, including the ones that hit the teen when he was on the ground.

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