The Chicago Police officer who fired the 16 shots that killed Laquan McDonald continued to tell his story Wednesday in selected media interviews as he prepares, with “huge” dread, for the start of his trial next week on first-degree murder charges.
“I’m extremely nervous. I’m petrified at the fact that I may be going to prison for the rest of my life for an act that I was trained to do by the Chicago Police Department,” Jason Van Dyke told Fox 32-Chicago WFLD-TV.
“Taking a person’s life is not something I take lightly at all. It’s very conflicting with religious beliefs. I never would have done this if I didn’t think my life or somebody’s else’s life was in danger.”
After a first round of interviews with the Chicago Tribune and WBEZ-FM Radio, Van Dyke sat down with Fox 32 for nearly an hour of questioning.
The ground rules were the same. Questions had to be submitted in advance. Van Dyke’s attorney, Dan Herbert, had to sit in with the right to interrupt if the line of questioning went too far. No questions were permitted about specific events that led up to the October 2014 shooting.
Van Dyke, who wears a bullet-proof vest to court, spoke haltingly and appeared visibly shaken as he continued to portray himself as a victim who did what he was trained to do by the Chicago Police Department, only because he felt that his own life and the life of his partner were threatened.
There was no mention of the dashcam video played around the world that showed the African-American teenager appearing to walk away from Van Dyke with a knife in his hand.
With long pauses, sometimes in mid-sentence, Van Dyke reiterated that politics played a role in the decision by then-State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to charge him with first-degree murder just hours before the shooting video was released under court order.
At the time, Alvarez was under fire for waiting more than a year to file charges. She was subsequently defeated by Kim Foxx in a Democratic primary campaign dominated by the McDonald shooting.
When investigative reporter Dane Placko asked what happened in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Van Dyke said he went home in a daze.
Did he know at that point that his life had changed forever?
“I didn’t know that my life had changed forever to the point like it is today. I knew my life had changed in some way,” he said.
According to Placko, Van Dyke identified himself as a devout Roman Catholic who prays for Laquan McDonald every day. He also talked about the impact that the shooting has had on his own family and on his own emotional stability — to the point where he contemplated suicide.
Jury selection in the trial is scheduled to begin next week.