Jury sequestered in Van Dyke trial; deliberations to continue Friday

CHICAGO — Jury deliberations will continue Friday in the trial of Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer charged with murdering Laquan McDonald.

Twelve jurors and three alternates will be sequestered until a verdict is reached. Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan told the jurors to stop deliberating for the day about 5:15 p.m. Thursday.

Jurors on Thursday afternoon requested a transcript of testimony from Joseph Walsh, Van Dyke's partner the night of the shooting. Two other jurors asked for a cigarette break; they were having trouble concentrating.

When Gaughan called everyone back to the courtroom to address juror questions shortly after 5 p.m., Van Dyke was absent. Defense attorney Steven "Randy" Rueckert said one of Van Dyke's daughters had been threatened at school; the officer had gone to move her.

Gaughan wanted evidence of a credible threat. Defense attorneys had none.

Gaughan told Van Dyke, who began crying, "If I don’t get any information tomorrow about [this being] a credible threat, then this was an unexcused absence and nobody was notified and I'm thinking of revoking bail."

Attorneys were told to report back to the Leighton Criminal Court Building, 2650 S. California Ave., at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

Van Dyke, 40, is charged with first-degree murder, official misconduct and aggravated battery in the Oct. 20, 2014, slaying of 17-year-old McDonald, who was shot 16 times. Jurors were told Thursday they have the option of convicting Van Dyke of second-degree murder, which is probationable.

Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer in decades to be charged with murder for an on-duty incident.

Van Dyke took the stand Tuesday to say he only shot McDonald after the teen refused to drop his knife and continued to advance at the officer. Van Dyke's testimony contradicts accounts from eyewitnesses, who testified McDonald was walking away from police when Van Dyke opened fire.

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1 p.m. Jury deliberations begin

Jurors were called back into Judge Vincent Gaughan's fifth-floor courtroom twice for additional and amended instructions. Deliberations are estimated to have begun about 1 p.m. Thursday.

12:28 p.m. Jury sent away to choose foreperson, begin deliberations

11:54 a.m. Judge reads jury instructions

Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder, official misconduct and aggravated battery. He has pleaded not guilty to each count. Gaughan instructed jurors that when it comes to the murder charge, they have three options:

  • convict Van Dyke of first-degree murder
  • acquit Van Dyke of first-degree murder
  • convict Van Dyke of second-degree murder

Tiffany Van Dyke listens to closing testimony at her husband, police Officer Jason Van Dyke's trial at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Oct. 4, 2018. (Antonio Perez/pool/Chicago Tribune)

11:30 a.m. Van Dyke didn't value McDonald's life, lead prosecutor says

"We’re here because Jason Van Dyke didn’t value the life of Laquan McDonald enough to do anything but shoot him," lead prosecutor McMahon said in his rebuttal argument. "In fact, we know Van Dyke was contemplating shooting Laquan before he even arrived, before he ever laid eyes on Laquan McDonald."

McMahon argued that McDonald showed a "pattern of avoidance" the night he was killed; the teen walked away from police and didn't engage with officers.

McMahon highlighted the testimony of Rudy Barillas, the truck driver who set the events of Oct. 20, 2014, into motion when he called 911 on McDonald, who was in a locked truck parking lot. Barillas testified McDonald lunged at him with a knife but backed off when Barillas threw a cellphone and some gravel at the teen.

"Mr. Rudy Barillas doesn’t have the benefit of backup officers," McMahon said. "...He fended off Laquan McDonald with a cellphone and a fistful of rocks."

McMahon said it would've been appropriate to detain McDonald.

"Someone needed to arrest him [McDonald], not stop him with a hail of gunfire," McMahon said. "That’s not self-defense. That’s not for personal safety. That’s someone coming in and shooting this kid because McDonald was not respecting the authority of the Chicago Police Department."

According to Van Dyke's testimony, McMahon said, the officer shot McDonald for four reasons: The teen had a knife. He was within 12 to 15 feet of Van Dyke. McDonald ignored Van Dyke's orders to drop the knife. And McDonald looked directly at Van Dyke with big, bulging eyes.

"Based on those four reasons — those four reasons alone — the defendant told you it was necessary to shoot and continue to shoot Laquan McDonald until he lay motionless on Pulaski," McMahon said. "Let’s explore those claims in detail."

McMahon walked jurors through other people who encountered McDonald the night he was killed. Officer Joseph McElligott, for instance, trailed McDonald on foot for a few blocks.

"Officer McElligott faced the exact same four things," McMahon said. "... He doesn’t shoot because it wasn’t necessary."

"No matter how loudly or how dramatically Mr. Herbert argues," McMahon said, "this proves it was not necessary to shoot Laquan McDonald."

McMahon said Van Dyke "... continued to shoot into a completely vulnerable and defenseless young man who was twitching from each time Van Dyke pulled the trigger and pumped another bullet into his body."

The prosecutor closed his 30-minute argument with, "We must hold him accountable like we hold every other citizen accountable. ... That’s not justified. That’s not necessary. That's first-degree murder."

Prosecutor Joseph McMahon delivers closing arguments at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Antonio Perez/pool/Chicago Tribune)

10:15 a.m. 'It's a tragedy, but not a murder': Defense presents closing arguments

"This case is a tragedy, there's no question," lead defense counsel Dan Herbert said as he began his opening statements Thursday. "It's a tragedy, but not a murder. And it’s a tragedy that could’ve been prevented with one simple step."

With that, Herbert picked up McDonald's knife and tossed it to the ground in front of jurors.

"If Laquan McDonald dropped that knife," Herbert said, "he'd be here today."

Herbert, a former Chicago police officer, said Van Dyke was acting according to his training and was thinking like a cop when he fatally shot McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014. Herbert called it "unprecedented" for an officer who responds to a scene with "no motive, no malice, no premeditation" to be charged with first-degree murder.

"Your job," Herbert told jurors, "is to interpret how a reasonable police officer would’ve reacted. We as civilians — we cannot recognize a lot of the things that police officers can."

Herbert took a jab at prosecutors, noting that the most dangerous part of their days is "walking across the street to Starbucks." He also told jurors that they shouldn't buy into "fake tears" from prosecutors, who likely would have been prosecuting McDonald had he dropped the knife and given up.

Herbert repeatedly referenced both expert testimony and that of Joseph Walsh, Van Dyke's partner the night of the shooting, to walk jurors through that evening's events from Van Dyke's perspective.

Herbert called dashcam footage of the shooting "the state's only evidence — noting that it only captured a tiny slice of what happened Oct. 20, 2014.

"The state wants you to watch the last two minutes of this movie without any context," Herbert said. He also noted: "It shows a perspective, but not the right perspective."

Defense attorney Daniel Herbert faces the jury as he begins his closing arguments at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Antonio Perez/pool/Chicago Tribune)

Gleason earlier in the day said officers arrived on the scene with a Taser less than a minute after McDonald was shot 16 times. Herbert said there was no way for Van Dyke to know that kind of help was on its way.

Herbert asked: Was Van Dyke supposed to run around the car with McDonald chasing him? "It's preposterous."

"Police are here to serve and protect, they can’t retreat," Herbert said. "They can’t run away like us. ...  Laquan McDonald was the author, the choreographer of this story. Jason Van Dyke had to be brought into it."

Herbert encouraged jurors to acquit Van Dyke — even if that's not the politically popular option.

"Sometimes the right decision is not always the easiest decision," he said, "but you owe it to yourself to make the right decision here. Nobody can fault you for making the right decision."

Herbert pointed out that Van Dyke opted for a jury trial after three days of interviews with potential jurors: "He chose you. He's putting his faith in your hands."

Herbert, after about 60 minutes of testimony, closed with: "If you review the evidence fairly, impartially, here's only one decision."

"Did the state prove its case?" he asked earlier. "Not even close."

Spectators crowd into packed pews at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Oct. 4, 2018. (Antonio Perez/pool/Chicago Tribune)

9:40 a.m. 'He shot too early, he shot too often': State begins closing arguments

Prosecutor Jody Gleason said in her closing arguments Thursday that a squad car with a Taser arrived on the scene of the McDonald shooting just 25 seconds after an officer kicked a knife out of the dying teen's hand. Van Dyke had opened fire seconds before that.

"He shot too early, he shot too often, and he shot for way too long," Gleason said.

She argued that McDonald — who was high on PCP, armed with small knife and accused of trying to steal truck radios — did nothing to warrant lethal force.

"An officer can tell you to stop," Gleason said. "An officer can order you to do something. An officer can even arrest you in certain situations. However, an officer does not have the right to use deadly force just because you do not bow to their authority."

Gleason said Van Dyke began firing within six seconds of arriving on the scene — and that he had intended to fire all along. She pointed to testimony from Tuesday in which Van Dyke admitted to saying while en route to the McDonald shooting, "Oh, my God. We're going to have to shoot the guy."

From the very first call to the police union," Gleason said, "this case has been about exaggerating the threat and trying to hide behind the police shield."

Defense attorneys have repeatedly brought up McDonald's violent history. Witnesses from a juvenile courthouse and a juvenile detention center testified last month.

"Let’s get one thing straight here: Laquan McDonald is not on trial," Gleason said, noting that there was no way Van Dyke could've known about McDonald's "troubled life" before the shooting.

Prosecutor Jody Gleason begins closing arguments at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Antonio Perez/pool/Chicago Tribune)

Gleason, for the first time, told jurors they'd be able to convict Van Dyke of second-degree murder instead of first-degree murder, if they felt that was more fitting.

Sentencing guidelines for second-degree murder are much more lenient and can even include probation alone without prison time.

Still, Gleason said, "When deadly force is used and it’s not necessary, it is first-degree murder."

She added: "We don’t have to prove that all of the shots killed Laquan. You can find him [Van Dyke] guilty of first-degree murder if you believe just one of those shots killed him."

Gleason again played for jurors dashcam footage of the shooting and again displayed autopsy photos. She argued that each of the 16 shots caused bleeding, robbing him of his chance at survival.

"The defendant made the last moments of his [McDonald's] life a nightmare."

Gleason spoke for nearly 30 minutes and closed with: "No one is above the law."

9:10 a.m. Case is called. Gaughan says not all jurors are present. Court is in recess