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Van Dyke Trial Day 10: The prosecution rests after calling 24 witnesses

Jason Van Dyke

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke listens in during his murder trial over the shooting of Laquan McDonald. | Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune pool photo

Testimony has ended for the day

1:33 p.m. The judge won’t throw out the case

Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan shot down a request from Jason Van Dyke’s defense attorneys to throw out the case after prosecutors rested Thursday.

The defense request is common following the end of a case by prosecutors, though it is rarely granted in jury trials.

Van Dyke defense lawyer Dan Herbert argued for the directed verdict. He said Van Dyke is not facing excessive force charges, and he insisted that “the shots were too many” is an irrelevant argument.

Assistant Special Prosecutor Joseph Cullen said deadly force wasn’t needed.

“While it was necessary to arrest Laquan McDonald — I think we can all agree on that,” Cullen said, “it was not necessary or proper for the defendant to kill him in order to arrest him.”

1:20 p.m. The state rests its case

Prosecutors in the murder trial of Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke rested Thursday afternoon, wrapping up their case much faster than expected. Van Dyke’s lawyer immediately asked for a directed verdict, for which arguments began.

Assuming that is denied, Van Dyke’s legal team would next have a chance to put on a defense. Van Dyke will also have to decide whether to take the stand.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Dan Herbert indicated there would be defense testimony from experts in ballistics, pathology and use of force. Van Dyke’s legal team also asked for permission to play an animated recreation of the shooting.

Assuming Van Dyke puts on a defense, prosecutors could later call more witnesses to rebut them.

Van Dyke’s trial on two counts of first-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery and one count of official misconduct connected to the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald is one of the most closely watched in recent Chicago history. The team seeking Van Dyke’s conviction is led by Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon, chosen as a special prosecutor in August 2016.

McMahon rested his case after calling 24 witnesses over four days of testimony. They included a member of McDonald’s family, officers who were at the scene when McDonald was killed Oct. 20, 2014, other first responders, Cook County’s chief medical examiner and an expert in the use of force by police who said “the risk posed by Mr. McDonald did not rise to the necessity of using deadly force to stop him.”


12:57 p.m. ‘Why the F are they still shooting him if he’s on the ground?’

Another witness to the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald — the father of an earlier prosecution witness — took the stand Thursday afternoon in the murder trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.

Jose Torres explained to jurors that he was taking his son, Xavier, to a hospital when they came upon McDonald’s confrontation with Van Dyke on Pulaski Road.

Torres said McDonald had turned away from police officers before the shooting began. Torres said he heard shouting and, “I saw him turn his face turn toward their direction. That’s the only thing I saw him do.”

Torres said McDonald “was trying to walk away . . . He was just trying to get away from them.”

Torres said McDonald’s shoulders were still turned toward the west side of the street. When asked when the shooting began, Torres said, “once he turned to look, it was quick.”

Torres said he heard more gunshots after McDonald fell than before. And Torres said he eventually blurted something out:

“I’m not going to use the word,” Torres said in the courtroom. “But I said, ‘Why the F are they still shooting him if he’s on the ground?”

12:33 p.m. What if Laquan McDonald ‘was closing the distance’ on Jason Van Dyke?

Defense attorney Dan Herbert continued to chip away Thursday at the prosecution’s expert on police use of force in Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s murder trial.

Herbert asked expert Urey Patrick if he believed Laquan McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke the night he was fatally shot on Oct. 20, 2014. Patrick said “yes.” Then Herbert asked, “what if he was closing the distance?”

“If Mr. McDonald came at a police officer with a knife, then it would be a justified shooting,” Patrick said.

Herbert continued, “If Laquan McDonald was closing the distance on Jason Van Dyke, would that change your opinion?”

Patrick said, “I’m not sure, to be honest. Possibly.”

Later, when asked about the quality of the dashcam video that captured the shooting, Herbert asked Patrick whether he agreed that video can distort distances.

“Yes, it gives you bad perspective on distance,” Patrick said.

11:59 a.m. How much damage can a knife do? ‘A lot,’ expert says

Defense attorney Dan Herbert sparred Thursday morning with an expert called by prosecutors to testify about the use of deadly force during Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s murder trial.

On cross-examination, Herbert asked expert Urey Patrick whether a knife is a deadly weapon.

“It can be, yes,” Patrick said.

Herbert asked how much damage it can do.

“A lot,” Patrick said.

And Herbert asked if a bullet-proof vest would protect an officer from it.

“Not from stabbing,” Patrick said.

Herbert went on to ask Patrick whether, when a police officer confronts someone with a knife from 21 feet away, the person with a knife “wins every time.” Patrick said, “I can’t agree with that. It depends on what the other person is prepared to do.”

The defense attorney pushed back, pointing out that the same hypothetical appears in a book written by Patrick, which concluded the offender would win. Patrick said, “the guy would win every time against the officer who was holstered.”


11:25 a.m. Expert: The risk ‘did not rise to the necessity of using deadly force’

A prosecution expert in the Jason Van Dyke murder trial testified Thursday that “the risk posed by Mr. McDonald did not rise to the necessity of using deadly force to stop him.”

The expert on the deadly use of force, Urey Patrick, an ex-FBI agent and veteran, noted that Laquan McDonald was moving away from police officers, including Van Dyke, did not make any threats and never moved to the police officers to confront them.

In the Van Dyke case, Patrick said he used the infamous dashcam video of McDonald’s fatal shooting to assess “the reasonableness of the imminent risk at the moment the officer decides to shoot.”

Urey Patrick, Jason Van Dyke

Urey Patrick, a use-of-force expert hired by prosecutors, testifies during the Jason Van Dyke trial for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Thursday. | Antonio Perez/pool/Chicago Tribune

Patrick told jurors: “My assessment of the situation was that the risk posed by Mr. McDonald did not rise to the necessity of using deadly force to stop him.”

Patrick said later: “Mr. McDonald is armed with a knife. To harm somebody with a knife you have to be within reach of them. Mr. McDonald has, to the best of my knowledge even today, never said anything to anybody, never made any threats, never made any moves toward the police officers confronting him in this video. He’s walking away from them. He’s a risk, no question. He’s been non-compliant and he is armed with a knife. But there is nobody within reach of him and he is moving away from the only people on the scene.”

Patrick also noted there were no nearby pedestrians, and McDonald was surrounded by police and a security fence.

Patrick noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has established standards “to apply to all of law enforcement across the country” for the use of deadly force. Those standards involve the imminent threat to an officer or others and the potential escape of a dangerous person.

11:00 a.m. A third shooting demonstration with a ‘baseline shooter’ — like Jason Van Dyke

While defense attorney Dan Herbert questioned FBI ballistics expert Scott Patterson, jurors viewed a third shooting demonstration video.

Patterson said the shooter in the third video was “a baseline shooter.” Herbert suggested in his questions that the person’s shooting ability resembled that of his client, Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.

The shooter in the third video fired 16 shots in 5.67 seconds.

10:40 a.m. Jurors see shooting demonstration by one of FBI’s ‘top 1 percent’

Jurors saw a pair of videos Thursday morning depicting an FBI demonstration of a shooter firing 16 shots.

FBI ballistics expert Scott Patterson explained the demonstrations, which he said were performed at a distance of 10 feet, six inches — a distance chosen by measuring the lines at the scene of Laquan McDonald’s shooting in Pulaski Road as a reference point. He said the shooter in the demonstration was required to fire accurately — rather than wildly firing 16 shots.

He also said demonstration was performed by a master class shooter who spends his weekends in competitions.

“He would be one of the top 1 percent shooters in all of the FBI,” Patterson said. “He is a professional shooter, and that’s the best way to put it. He is extraordinarily skilled.”

In the first video, the shooter fired 16 times in 3.77 seconds, in a flurry of bullets. In a second video, in which the shooter was asked to aim for 14.6 seconds, he fired the 16 shots in 14.19 seconds. Patterson described that as a deliberate, methodical rate of fire.

10:20 a.m. ‘Plumes’ v. ‘puffs of smoke’; ballistics expert explains FBI’s shooting video

FBI ballistics expert Scott Patterson explained to the jury Thursday how he helped determine when shots were fired in the infamous dashcam video of the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.

And rather than use the phrase “puffs of smoke,” Patterson insisted on using the word “plumes” to describe the debris that can sometimes be seen flying into the air. “It’s not smoke from a fire,” Patterson said. “It’s debris of sorts.”

During his testimony, jurors again saw the enhanced video prepared by the FBI that had been stricken from evidence earlier this week.

Scott Patterson, Jason Van Dyke

Scott Patterson, an FBI ballistics expert, testifies during the fourth day of testimony in the murder trial for the Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool

Patterson said he looked for three things to determine when shots were fired: changes in people’s behavior, the “plumes” of debris and flinching by people nearby as gunshots went off.

“It’s loud,” Patterson said. “And quite frankly, at times, it’s painful if you’re close enough.”

Finally, he explained that green arrows in the enhanced video are not meant to determine the path of the bullets.

“The arrows are just showing you where an event is occurring so you can look for it yourself,” Patterson said.

10:02 a.m. Testimony begins as FBI ballistics expert takes the stand

The fourth day of testimony in the murder trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke began a little before 10 a.m. Thursday as prosecutors called an expert in ballistics to the witness stand.

Prosecutors have said they want to use the testimony of the expert, Scott Patterson, to re-introduce the enhanced version of the Laquan McDonald shooting video prepared by the FBI. Judge Vincent Gaughan told jurors to disregard that video earlier this week as he struck the testimony of FBI video expert Mark Messick. Gaughan let Messick testify again Wednesday afternoon.

Patterson is the supervisory special agent for the FBI’s ballistic research facility. He said his team of six people collectively fire, as a conservative estimate, 80,000 rounds every year.


As the 10th day of the Van Dyke trial continues with more from the prosecution, here are three things to take away from testimony on Wednesday:

1.  The evidence centered around medical testimony with prosecutors and the defense sparring over when Laquan McDonald exactly died.  Prosecutors emphasized that McDonald was alive for at least some period as he lay on the street after Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shot him. The defense tried to elicit testimony that McDonald was dead before he got the hospital.

2. Jurors heard and saw in painstaking, graphic detail testimony and photos about every bullet that hit McDonald’s body. Van Dyke shot the 17-year-old McDonald 16 times in October 2014. Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar traced the path of all 16 bullets for the jury.

She said eight of the 16 passed entirely through the teen’s body.

“When all the holes are added, it comes to a total of 24 holes on Laquan,” she told the jury.

The medical examiner said all 16 shots contributed to his death, but the defense was eager to argue that two of the 16 were key to his death.

3. If the case weren’t elevated enough in the city’s consciousness, the Rev. Jesse Jackson attended the trial on Wednesday and gave this memorable quote: “This must be a case that defines — just for us in this city and across our nation — the most heinous crime since the lynching of Emmett Till, and we intend to be witness every day until there’s a resolution.”

Jackson was referring to the 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after allegedly offending a white woman at a grocery story. After his death, Till became a symbol of the civil rights movement.

Here’s a recap of the analysis Wednesday from Sun-Times reporters Andy Grimm and Jon Seidel: