Jury selection in Van Dyke trial to start Wednesday with pool of 200 people

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Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke listens in during the hearing for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, at the Leighton Criminal Court Building last month. | Antonio Perez| Chicago Tribune pool

With a big case comes a big jury pool.

Jury selection in the murder trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke is expected to start Wednesday with an extra-large pool of 200 jurors assembled in the courtroom.

Jurors will receive a questionnaire about the case, which they will fill out before being sent home.

Typically, a murder trial would see as few as 40 jurors summoned, but finding 12 impartial jurors —and alternates — for Van Dyke is likely to prove more difficult, given the publicity surrounding the case of the Chicago cop charged with murdering Laquan McDonald.

Lawyers for both sides will review the jurors’ answers, and jurors will return to the courthouse Monday for one-on-one questioning by the judge, another rarity at the criminal courthouse. Choosing the jurors is expected to take several more days.

Van Dyke’s lawyers have sought to have the trial moved out of Cook County, citing a survey conducted by a trial consultant that found three-quarters of potential jurors already think Van Dyke is guilty. Judge Vincent Gaughan has said he would postpone ruling on moving the trial until after he’s started questioning prospective jurors.

Van Dyke still can waive his right to a trial by jury and have Gaughan decide his fate.

While the courthouse is on the Southwest Side, the jurors will be drawn from the rolls of every Cook County resident who has registered to vote, applied for unemployment or disability, or gotten a driver’s license or state ID card.

While Chicago accounts for just under half the 5.2 million residents in Cook County, the majority of prospective jurors who show up to the courthouse often come from the suburbs, said Alan Tuerkheimer, a jury consultant and president of Chicago-based Trial Methods.

“It may be that people in the city are more mobile, they might move more often, and they aren’t getting the summonses,” he said.

Generally, Cook County jurors are considered more liberal than those from other jurisdictions around the state, which can lend itself to being more sympathetic to the defense. How that liberal slant might apply to a criminal defendant who also is a police officer is hard to say, Tuerkheimer said.

What the jury finally looks like will depend on what jurors say when asked questions about their ability to be fair, which could be a basis for Gaughan to dismiss them “for cause.” Van Dyke’s defense team and prosecutors each will have seven “pre-emptory challenges,” which allow them to reject jurors for a wide range of reasons — within limits. Eliminating potential jurors solely based on their race is prohibited.

Also on Wednesday, the judge also will weigh whether to allow cameras to film the testimony of several witnesses who have said they don’t want to be on television. The case is one of a few at the courthouse that will have cameras in the courtroom.

On Thursday, Van Dyke returns for a hearing that could see him jailed for allegedly violating a court order barring parties in the case from talking to press.

Prosecutors said Van Dyke should have his $1.5 million bond increased or revoked for granting interviews to the Chicago Tribune and Fox 32. Van Dyke’s attorneys say he was simply exercising his First Amendment rights.

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