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Judge Gaughan to decide where Laquan McDonald murder trial will take place

Judge Vincent Gaughan presides over the Jason Van Dyke hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building in 2016 . (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune, Pool)

Judge Vincent Gaughan presides over the Jason Van Dyke hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building in 2016 . (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune, Pool)

The judge who has presided over the murder case against the Chicago police officer charged in the deadly shooting of Laquan McDonald will get to rule on whether or not the trial takes place in Cook County.

After a short hearing on Tuesday, Chief Criminal Court Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. ruled that lawyers for Officer Jason Van Dyke had not shown that Judge Vincent Gaughan was biased against their request to move the upcoming trial out of the county.

Gaughan had set a hearing on Friday for attorneys to argue a motion to move the trial. Gaughan also has set a Sept. 5 date for the start of the trial.

Martin pointed out that the defense was asking to have a different judge handle the issue of where the trial takes place, not to remove Gaughan from the case entirely — a move that Martin said was not allowed under state law.

Following a recess, and the denial of a motion requesting a change of judge in the Jason Van Dyke murder trial, Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke listens in to court arguments during the hearing for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, Tuesday, July 31, 2018. | Antonio Perez/ Chicago Tribune/Pool

Following a recess, and the denial of a motion requesting a change of judge in the Jason Van Dyke murder trial, Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke listens in to court arguments during the hearing for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, Tuesday, July 31, 2018. | Antonio Perez/ Chicago Tribune/Pool

Martin also ruled that Gaughan’s willingness to push out the trial date to September after previously stating he wanted the trial to begin this summer showed Gaughan had not made up his mind on where the case would play out.

Moving a trial to a new jurisdiction — called a change of venue — is a rare move.

Courthouse observers could recall only two, very high-profile cases that were moved from the county to other courthouses: the 1967 trial of Richard Speck, which was held in Peoria; and the 1980 trial of John Wayne Gacy, in which jurors from Winnebago County were brought to Cook County.

Van Dyke’s lawyer, Dan Herbert, told Martin that the defense team wants the trial moved out of the county, both in hope of finding an unbiased jury pool and in thinning the crowds of protesters in attendance when the trial opens.

Pointing out recent protests in Chicago, including a march that blocked the Dan Ryan Expressway in early July, Herbert said he worried witnesses and jurors would have to walk through a “gauntlet” of angry demonstrators to get in and out of the courthouse.

“I know you’re not viewing this as a vacuum. We know there’s going to be intense animosity when this case goes to trial,” Herbert said. “Nobody wants to testify … if jurors have to walk through a gauntlet of protesters, people hanging signs Jason Van Dyke’s picture, with ‘killer’ and ‘murder’ (on them) … they’re going to be prejudiced.”

Herbert will have another chance to argue for a move, likely citing heavily from a report by a defense expert who surveyed public opinion and media coverage surrounding the McDonald shooting. Among other findings, their expert determined 86 percent of Cook County residents polled were familiar with the case, and more than half believe Van Dyke is “definitely guilty.”