CHICAGO — One of the most highly-anticipated trials in Cook County history begins this week, as former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke faces murder charges in the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.
It's the first time in nearly four decades that a Chicago cop has faced murder charges for an on-duty shooting.
Van Dyke faces charges of first-degree murder, official misconduct and aggravated battery with a firearm in the October 2014 slaying of 17-year-old McDonald. Van Dyke is currently free on bond.
According to prosecutors, McDonald was stealing car radios and was armed with a 3-inch blade when Chicago police officers in Archer Heights called in a radio request for a Taser on Oct. 20, 2014. An autopsy later revealed McDonald had PCP in his system.
Van Dyke and his partner responded to the call, but never specified whether they had a Taser. Within seconds of arriving on the scene, Van Dyke pulled his gun and emptied his magazine into McDonald, shooting the teen 16 times. Video of the shooting, which was released via court order in November 2015, sparked massive protests and prompted federal and local investigations.
Once the trial gets underway Monday, Judge Vincent Gaughan is expected to swear in the full jury and begin with opening statements. The jury is made up of eight women and four men, and among them seven are white, three are hispanic, one is black and one is asian.
Legal analysts say Van Dyke’s team likely chose a jury trial instead of a bench trial because they're hoping for either a hung jury or leniency, as he faces a minimum of 45 years in prison if convicted. The defense is pushing to get the trial moved out of Cook County as well.
"It’s quite possible they could be thinking, 'if we can get a jury and not everyone to convince one way or the other, maybe we can get a compromised verdict or something less than murder one,'" said former Cook County Prosecutor Joseph Roddy.
As the trial gets underway, protests are expected outside the Leighton criminal courthouse for the duration. Among the complaints of protesters is the makeup of the jury itself.
"How can you have a jury in the city of Chicago and only one be black?" protester Frank Chapman said Sunday.
With the clock ticking and her husband’s fate on the line, Jason Van Dyke’s wife is speaking out and saying her husband is innocent.
"He did not know he was coming up to an African American male. He knew he was coming up to a male wielding a knife high on drugs," Tiffany Van Dyke told WGN. "He did his job and what he was trained to do by the City of Chicago."