4:36 p.m. Conspiracy trial stalls until next week when argument breaks out over emails

An argument over whether Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson should consider a series of emails as prosecutors try to prove their conspiracy case against three current or former Chicago Police officers abruptly stalled the trial Thursday afternoon.

After taking time to read the emails privately, the judge said she wanted to have more time — until Tuesday — to consider them.

The defense attorneys insisted the emails can’t be used against their clients, who didn’t send or receive them, and their arguments dragged through much of the afternoon.

“Now they want to put in emails by authors nowhere near this courtroom, against David March,” James McKay, March’s defense attorney, argued.

Assistant Special Prosecutor Brian Watson argued that each officer included false information from the emails in their police reports — such as the number of officers “injured” and other details — and that’s evidence of an agreement to cover for Jason Van Dyke. The loss of the emails could be devastating to the prosecution.

“While it may be good police work to get together back at the Area to write true reports, no one can get together to write false reports,” Watson said.

Thomas Gaffney’s grand jury testimony stated that Van Dyke and other officers from the scene — and possibly their union representatives and attorneys — were hanging out together in a room in the Area Central detectives offices, talking about the shooting before they made their official reports.

His attorney, Will Fahy, said that pow-wow was not unusual.

“It’s a large area, it’s a large room,” Fahy said. “There were lots of officers there. That’s standard operating procedure.”

The defense attorneys are likely to ask the judge to toss the charges against their clients at the close of the state’s case — possibly as soon as Tuesday — and this argument appears to be a preview of that fight.

12:20 p.m. ‘My information was leaked out’

A journalist and activist credited with exposing the Laquan McDonald shooting became an issue during the cross-examination of Jose Torres.

While being questioned by defense attorney James McKay, Torres said Jamie Kalven visited his home after Torres spoke to the Independent Police Review Authority about the McDonald shooting. Torres said Kalven’s visit prompted him to call IPRA and complain.

“My information was leaked out,” Torres said.

Torres said he didn’t immediately trust Kalven and decided to research his work before speaking to him in detail.

“You learned what he did was, he was a person who wrote articles criticizing the police, right?” McKay said.

“That’s not the way I looked at it,” Torres replied.

Torres went on to call Kalven “a person that tries to get the truth out.”

“About anti-police matters, correct?” McKay said.

“No,” Torres said.

Jose Torres

Jose Torres testifies Thursday at the trial of Chicago Police Officer Thomas Gaffney, former Detective David March and ex-Officer Joseph Walsh.
| Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/Pool)

12:03 p.m. ‘It looks like he was trying to get up’ — but Torres says there’s more to it

A defense attorney worked Thursday to discredit a key eyewitness to the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald — using a key conflicting comment the man made following McDonald’s death.

Using a transcript of Jose Torres’ interview with the Independent Police Review Authority on Oct. 28, 2014, defense attorney James McKay asked Torres if he thought McDonald had tried to get up after gunshots knocked him to the ground on Oct. 20, 2014.

“No,” Torres said.

McKay then read from a transcript in which Torres allegedly told IPRA, “To be honest with you, it looks like he was trying to get up.”

“There’s more to that,” Torres retorted. “You’re just reading part of that.”

Torres went on to say, “they asked me if I believed he was getting up. And I said I didn’t know . . . If you continue reading it, I corrected it.”

11:47 a.m. ‘They’re lying. This is not what happened.’

After he saw the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, Jose Torres said police told him to leave the scene. An officer holding a flashlight “just, with his hand, just gave a gesture to make a U-turn and leave.”

So Torres said Thursday that he continued his trip to take his son to a hospital, finding a detour to the Stevenson Expressway. He said he never spoke to police that night.

But the next morning, Torres said he saw a “police spokesperson” say on the news that McDonald “was lunging at the police” before he was shot. It was later clarified during cross-examination that it was a spokesman for the police union.

“When I found out that all he had was a knife, I told my wife at that moment, ‘They’re lying. This is not what happened.’”

Torres said he discussed it with his wife.

“I had to say something,” Torres said. “This is just like a burden on my shoulders, eating away at me.”

For the next few days, he said he couldn’t sleep. And then he said he called the Independent Police Review Authority.

11:32 a.m. Man who saw shooting, came forward is the first witness of the day

The first witness called to the stand on the third day of the conspiracy trial revolving around the shooting death of Laquan McDonald was Jose Torres.

Torres also testified during the trial of Jason Van Dyke. As his testimony began Thursday, he repeated the story he told on the witness stand in September about taking his son, Xavier, to a hospital via Pulaski.

Torres said then that he came upon Van Dyke’s fatal confrontation with McDonald. He said he saw McDonald turn away from police before the shooting began. He said he heard shouting and, “I saw him turn his face turn toward their direction. That’s the only thing I saw him do.”

During Van Dyke’s trial, Torres said McDonald “was trying to walk away . . . He was just trying to get away from them.” He said at that time that he head more gunshots after McDonald fell than before. And he said he blurted something out.

“Why the F are they still shooting him if he’s on the ground?”

When he’s done sharing that story again Thursday, he’s expected to tell the judge why he came forward after McDonald’s death.

Earlier:

The prosecution is expected to finish its case Wednesday against three Chicago police officers charged with lying to help their fellow officer Jason Van Dyke after he shot Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.

Here are three things to watch for today:

1. Wider conspiracy?

The prosecution may enter more documents into evidence that point to a wider conspiracy within the Chicago Police Department to cover up what happened the night Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times.

In one of the prosecution’s pretrial filings, they noted several emails between CPD supervisors that suggest an effort to shape the narrative that Van Dyke was in the right over the shooting as well as help him with any possible legal defense. Van Dyke was convicted last month of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in the slaying of Laquan McDonald.

No other officers than than the three on trial have been charged in the conspiracy.

2. Eyewitness testimony

As they finish their case, prosecutors may call Jose Torres, who was also a witness at the Van Dyke trial and saw the McDonald shooting. Prosecutors say cops had no interest in taking his statement about what he saw, which is part of their wider argument that police did a pool job investigating the shooting as part of the cover-up.

3. Directed verdict fight

In a test of the prosecution’s case, the defense will ask for a directed verdict at the close of the prosecution’s evidence. Defense attorneys will argue in essence that the prosecution so failed to prove its case, the judge should find their clients not guilty without the defense even having to put on any evidence. These motions are routine and are routinely denied but in this case expect the motion to be hard fought.

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