Van Dyke Trial Day 7: First day of testimony comes to an end

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Jason Van Dyke’s lawyer, Daniel Herbert, motions with the 3-inch blade Laquan McDonald carried the night he was fatally shot, during opening statements Monday in the trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/pool

3:28 p.m. Testimony concludes for the day

3:25 p.m. Judge clears courtroom to talk to jury about ‘safety issue’

Judge Vincent Gaughan cleared the courtroom at 3:24 p.m., declaring, “I have to talk to the jury regarding safety.”

“Because it is a safety issue it can’t be open to the public,” Gaughan said.

3:13 p.m. Officer says McDonald was ‘swaying a knife’

Another fellow police officer took the stand Monday afternoon and testified that she did not see Laquan McDonald move aggressively toward anyone before he was shot.

Officer Dora Fontaine testified under a grant of use immunity and said she was at a Dunkin’ Donuts at 59th and Pulaski when she and her partner learned a Taser was needed nearby at 41st and Pulaski. She and her partner did not have a Taser, she said.

Fontaine said she saw McDonald “swaying a knife” walking southbound on Pulaski, and she heard him being told to “drop the knife, drop the knife.”

Under questioning by Assistant Special Prosecutor Daniel Weiler, Fontaine said she did not see McDonald stab anyone, attack anyone or make any aggressive movement beyond swinging the knife. She acknowledged she also did not open fire.

Cross-examined by defense attorney Randy Rueckert, Fontaine admitted that she told a federal grand jury in 2015 that McDonald may have still been a threat, even after the gunshots brought him to the ground. That’s because he still had a knife in his hand.

“As long as he has a weapon, yes,” Fontaine told the grand jury three years ago.

2:42 p.m. Side-by-side dashcam videos viewed by jury

Jurors viewed a side-by-side comparison of police dashcam videos Monday afternoon from the night Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald.

The presentation was prepared by FBI forensic program manager Paul Rettig.

They also viewed the dashcam video of McDonald’s shooting synced with surveillance video from a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.

Rettig said the dashcam videos contained 60 stills per second.Under cross-examination by defense attorney Dan Herbert, Rettig acknowledged there are cameras that capture more than that. And the fewer the stills, the less likely the video is to “accurately capture the images on the screen.”

2:03 p.m.: Trial resumes with testimony about videos

Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke’s murder trial resumed Monday afternoon with testimony from retired CPD officer Lance Becvar.

Becvar said he recovered dashcam video from two police vehicles — but no audio — at the scene of Laquan McDonald’s fatal shooting on Oct. 20, 2014. He said he had trouble recovering data because of loose camera connectors, lack of computer memory and a corrupt application.

Asked by defense attorney Dan Herbert whether he saw any evidence of tampering, Becvar said, “nothing that I would think of right now or nothing I could prove.”

Becvar was followed by a Dunkin’ Donuts manager who testified about his store’s surveillance cameras.

12:50 p.m.: McDonald ‘raised the threat level’

The Jason Van Dyke trial paused for lunch at 12:46 p.m. The trial will resume at 1:30 p.m.

Earlier, defense attorney Randy Rueckert challenged Officer Joseph McElligott on his decision not to open fire on Laquan McDonald. Rueckert noted that McDonald “raised the threat level” by stabbing the tire of the officers’ vehicle and slashing at its windshield. He pointed out that McDonald ran toward a Burger King — where McElligott risked shooting someone else.

“Yeah, it wouldn’t be smart,” McElligott said of the possibility of shooting toward the Burger King.

12:20 p.m. ‘We were trying to buy time . . . he didn’t make any direct movement at me’

Veteran Chicago Police officer Joseph McElligott took the stand Monday morning and described his encounter on Oct. 20, 2014, with Laquan McDonald, which preceded McDonald’s fatal shooting by Jason Van Dyke.

McElligott described seeing Van Dyke moments after Van Dyke shot McDonald. He described Van Dyke as “holding his gun. He looked like in shock.”

McElligott also said he didn’t open fire on McDonald because “we were trying to buy time to have a Taser. He didn’t make any direct movement at me. And I felt like my partner was protected for the most part.”

McElligott described the situation as “kind of like organized chaos.”

“We were trying to be patient,” he said, as they waited for a police car with a Taser.

McElligott said he first saw McDonald near 40th and Kildare after he responded with Officer Thomas Gaffney to a 911 call. McElligott said he hopped out of the officers’ Chevy Tahoe and told McDonald to show his hands.

“He took his hands out of his pockets,” McElligott said, noting McDonald had a knife in his right hand.

Assistant Special Prosecutor Marilyn Hite Ross asked McElligott, “did he threaten you with the knife?”

“No,” McElligott said.

“He just had the knife in his hand, is that correct?”

“Yes,” McElligott said.

The foot pursuit continued, but McElligott acknowledged he never opened fire on McDonald.

McElligott wound up blocking traffic on Pulaski while officers pursued McDonald. He said he soon heard gunshots — “they were continuous,” he said. “I heard at least 10.”

11:38 p.m. First witnesses take the stand

Prosecutors have called their first witnesses in the trial of Jason Van Dyke.

The first witness was Carlissa Hunter, Laquan McDonald’s great aunt, who took the stand briefly to identify McDonald’s photograph — a common component of state murder trials. Defense attorney Randy Rueckert tried to question her about where McDonald was living at the time of his death but was cut off when prosecutors successfully objected.

Next, prosecutors called Chicago police dispatcher Tabitha Thiry, whose testimony was used to enter dispatch recordings from Oct. 20, 2014, into evidence.

“Let me know when he’s in custody guys,” she could be heard saying on the recording, apparently referring to McDonald.

She acknowledged on the stand she called for officers with a Taser to respond to the pursuit of McDonald.

11:16 a.m. Defense says ‘Laquan was planning to attack’

Defense attorney Daniel Herbert began to lay out Jason Van Dyke’s self-defense argument — and his client’s reason for shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times — during his opening statement.

First, Herbert said McDonald changed his behavior as police closed in on him, flicking out a knife. Herbert said, “Laquan was planning to attack.”

“He was closing distance on Jason Van Dyke to the point when he gets within 15 feet of him,” Herbert said.

The lawyer also said, “Laquan McDonald was not looking at anybody.”

“When people don’t make eye contact, that’s a sign that you’re dealing with a dangerous person.”

Finally, Herbert said Van Dyke experienced the same physiological changes most officers face in a deadly force situation, including tunnel vision and auditory exclusion. He said Van Dyke had “no idea if he even hit Laquan McDonald” despite the fact that McDonald fell to the ground.

“He didn’t know if Laquan McDonald had the ability to get back up and attack,” Herbert said.

Later, he added: “race had absolutely nothing to do with this.” He argued that murder charge was improper.

“What happened to Laquan McDonald was a tragedy,” Herbert said. “It’s a tragedy. It’s not a murder.”

10:55 a.m. Defense says Laquan McDonald was ‘on a wild rampage’

Defense attorney Daniel Herbert began his opening statement at 10:47 a.m. by trying to humanize Jason Van Dyke for the jurors. He said Van Dyke began his day Oct. 20, 2014, by kissing his wife and kids goodbye, finishing a “honey-do” list and reporting for his tour of duty.

He then went on to describe Laquan McDonald as an “out of control individual” who was “on a wild rampage through the city.”

“Jason Van Dyke is not a murderer,” Herbert said. “Jason Van Dyke had no intent to go out and kill Laquan McDonald.”

Herbert called Van Dyke a “scared police officer fearful for his life and others, and he acted within his training.”

“The story in this case is a story written, directed and orchestrated by one person,” Herbert said. “Laquan McDonald. Jason Van Dyke was brought into this story.”

10:42 a.m. Jurors see shooting video — special prosecutor makes his opening statement

Jurors in the trial of Jason Van Dyke have now officially seen the infamous police dashcam video capturing the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke. It was played to the jury at 10:35 a.m.

It was the third video shown by Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon during opening statements Monday morning. McMahon began his comments by narrating the pursuit of McDonald by Officers Thomas Gaffney and Joseph McElligott on Oct. 20, 2014.

Special Prosecutor Joe McMahon shows the jury during his opening statement the knife Laquan McDonald held before he was shot. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool photo

Special Prosecutor Joe McMahon shows the jury during his opening statement the knife Laquan McDonald held before he was shot. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool photo

McMahon described the moment when Van Dyke got out of his car near 41st and Pulaski and opened fire on McDonald. McMahon said that, 1.6 seconds after Van Dyke began to shoot, McDonald was “knocked to the ground never to get up again.”

Then he continued, dramatically: “For the next 12 and a half seconds, the defendant continues to pull the trigger of his gun over and over until he empties the entire clip of the gun. In total this defendant decides to shoot Laquan McDonald not once, not twice, but three, four, five, six, seven, eight — only halfway done — nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 times in total. Sixteen gunshots to the defenseless body of Laquan McDonald.”

McMahon wrapped up his opening statement at 10:40 a.m. The defense will speak next.

10:22 a.m. Opening statements underway in trial of Jason Van Dyke

Opening statements in the trial of Jason Van Dyke — one of the most highly anticipated trials in recent Chicago memory — began at 10:21 a.m. when Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon began to address the jury. He immediately told them Van Dyke fired at Laquan McDonald 16 times “when it was completely unnecessary.”

“Not a single shot was necessary or justified,” McMahon said.

This is the first opportunity for prosecutors to tell jurors what they expect the evidence to show — and how they intend to prove their case. Van Dyke’s lawyers will have their own chance to address the jurors following arguments by the prosecution.

10:05 a.m. Judge denies most pre-trial motions by defense

Judge Vincent Gaughan shot down three of four requests by the defense ahead of opening statements, which were set to begin momentarily.

The technical legal arguments by Jason Van Dyke defense attorney Dan Herbert could be crucial as the trial gets going.

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

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

Herbert asked the judge to prevent prosecutors from arguing Van Dyke had an intent to cause death or great bodily harm, that Van Dyke began to reload his weapon after he fired 16 shots, that no other officer opened fire on Laquan McDonald, and that opening fire must be a last resort.

Herbert argued that Van Dyke’s partner, Joe Walsh, planned to shoot but Van Dyke was in his line of fire.

Gaughan denied all of the requests except for the last: barring the state from arguing that opening fire must be a last resort.

9:42 a.m. Judge denies bid to move trial out of Cook County

Judge Vincent Gaughan finally denied a bid by Jason Van Dyke’s attorneys to move the trial out of Cook County following one last impassioned argument from defense attorney Dan Herbert.

“(Van Dyke) is probably 20 yards behind the starting line,” Herbert told the judge. “And that’s not fair.”

Herbert has said the trial should move not only because of years of saturated media coverage, but also because jurors may feel intimidated into convicting Van Dyke. He has pointed to a large protest outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on the first formal day of the trial.

“It is abundantly clear that the community will riot if Van Dyke is not found guilty,” Herbert wrote in one court filing.

Assistant Special Prosecutor Joseph Cullen insisted that the state also has a right to a public trial — in Cook County. And he noted that, when questioning the jurors last week “there wasn’t that much fear.”

Herbert characterized the notion as needing to “give Cook County jurors the head on the platter.”

9:31 a.m. Judge denies bid to discharge jury

Judge Vincent Gaughan denied a motion by Jason Van Dyke’s attorney, Dan Herbert, to discharge the jury chosen last week.

“I don’t know how anyone can argue that the jurors have not been tainted,” Herbert said.

Assistant Special Prosecutor Joseph Cullen said there is no evidence the jurors have been improperly influenced.

The judge said: “My finding (is) that this is a fair jury.”

9:21 a.m. State moves to dismiss four counts in indictment

Special prosecutor Joseph McMahon opened the proceedings by moving to dismiss four counts from the indictment. They are the first four of the six counts of first-degree murder against Jason Van Dyke. He still faces murder charges.

8:30 a.m. Van Dyke enters the courthouse well before protesters arrive

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke entered the Leighton Criminal Court Building about 7:45 a.m., well before any protesters arrived.

Van Dyke walked straight up the steps, wearing a black suit, looking straight ahead with no expression. He wore a bulletproof vest as he typically does and was surrounded by a security detail.

Opening statements in the murder trial are expected to start shortly after 9 a.m. in front of Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan.

Seven protesters arrived about 8:30 a.m., marching with a banner.

They chanted: “From the slave catchers and the KKK to the killer cops of today, convict Van Dyke and throw him in jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell.”

A small group of protesters march and chant outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse as opening statements in the Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke murder trial were scheduled to begin, Monday morning, Sept. 17, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A small group of protesters march and chant outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse as opening statements in the Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke murder trial were scheduled to begin, Monday morning, Sept. 17, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

6:48 a.m.: Opening statements set for this morning as trial begins in earnest

Opening statements in the Jason Van Dyke murder trial are expected shortly after 9 a.m. Monday as the trial that has transfixed Chicago begins in earnest.

Prosecutors are expected to play to jurors the now infamous video of the Chicago police officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times as the 17-year-old appeared to walk away from him while carrying a knife in October 2014.

The defense is expected to stress that Van Dyke feared for his life and that he acted in self-defense.

Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan is also likely to reject a request by the defense to move the case out of Cook County. Defense lawyers argue that there is no way that Van Dyke can get a fair trial here, but the judge is expected to point to the jury they’ve already selected.

There were few protesters outside the Leighton Criminal Court Building last week as jury selection proceeded, resulting in a jury of eight women and four men, with five alternates. But protesters are expected to show up in greater numbers Monday morning.

Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer to face trial for killing someone on-duty in 50 years. Read about the other case here.

Van Dyke’s wife, Tiffany, said in an interview with the Sun-Times over the weekend that she plans to attend the trial every day and is “absolutely petrified” he could go to prison.

If you want to attend the trial in person, here are the details on the process.

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