On the eve of her husband’s trial for the murder of Laquan McDonald, the wife of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke says she is resigned to the prospect that her husband could land in prison and fears that the case will not get a fair hearing.
Opening statements are set to begin Monday morning at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, more than two years after Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder for shooting McDonald 16 times. His wife, Tiffany, says she will be in court each day.
“I am absolutely petrified,” Tiffany Van Dyke said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday at the Fraternal Order of Police headquarters in the West Loop. “He has the possibility, since he’s chosen a trial, of going to prison for 45 years to life. I’m absolutely petrified to lose my husband.”
Tiffany Van Dyke made her first appearance in the courtroom gallery two weeks ago, when her husband faced the prospect of being jailed for the first time since his 2015 arrest. Prosecutors had asked Judge Vincent Gaughan to lock up Jason Van Dyke for giving interviews to the press just days before the start of jury selection. In the end, Jason Van Dyke would end up cycling in and out of the jail in about an hour, after Gaughan registered his disapproval by boosting Van Dyke’s $1.5 million bond by $2,000.
The interviews earlier this month were the first time Jason Van Dyke had spoken publicly about the case, though Tiffany Van Dyke has given a handful of interviews in the years since her husband was charged. Her more recent interviews, she acknowledges, have been aimed at changing the image of her husband as a “racist, trigger-happy cop.”
Rev. Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s grand-uncle, has said he and McDonald’s mother also will be in court each day of the trial. The minister said he does not begrudge Van Dyke or his family their attempt to get their message out through the media — the message just is not the one he wants to hear.
“Jason Van Dyke has never apologized. He’s never admitted that he was wrong. He needs to do that for his own soul, not for me,” Hunter said. “His wife and his daughters, I have no problem with them. We do not want revenge. We just want justice.”
Tiffany Van Dyke said her husband seldom talked about work when he came home, even before the shooting in October 2014. When she returned home from work that day, her husband seemed distraught and told her “something happened at work.”
“I said ‘OK, is it serious?’ He said ‘Yes. Unfortunately, I had to take a life,’” she recalled. She said her husband did not go into details.
“The entire time I was talking to him, he was crying. I was crying. We were sitting there on the couch. And that’s all I asked him, I said ‘Did you do what you were trained to do?’ He said, ‘Absolutely.’ I said, ‘OK. We’ll go from there.’”
Tiffany Van Dyke said she didn’t watch the video of the shooting, likely to be the most powerful evidence introduced by the prosecution, until about six months ago.
“I knew I was going to go to court with my husband, I knew I was going to see it , and it was better to see it beforehand than to be shocked seeing it in the courtroom,” she said.
“I honestly could not really comment on the logistics of the actual video. I’m not the police. I have no idea where to begin.”
Tiffany Van Dyke said she weighed in on her husband’s decision to opt for a jury trial rather than having Judge Gaughan decide the verdict.
“I don’t think he can get a fair trial. I think this is completely politically motivated,” she said. “Do we put our fate in the hand of 12 jurors? That’s what we’ve decided. Or what he’s decided. Absolutely.
“I just hope they look at the evidence, really look and listen as this trial plays out.”
Tiffany Van Dyke said she prays for the McDonald family but had not spoken to any of McDonald’s relatives. Rev. Hunter said he expects about 20 family members will attend each day of the trial, including McDonald’s mother, Tina Hunter.
“I have not spoken with them. I don’t know if I ever will,” Tiffany Van Dyke said. “I pray for the family. I pray for Laquan McDonald, that he finally has peace. From everything I’ve ever seen and everything I’ve ever read, he was a troubled soul. He did not have an easy life.”
FOLLOW THE TRIAL
• A complete guide to the Laquan McDonald shooting and the Jason Van Dyke trial
• In key decision, Van Dyke will have jurors — not judge — decide his fate
• Illinois’ law on deadly force crucial to Jason Van Dyke’s defense
• A comprehensive timeline since the shooting