Jury was unswayed by officer’s story in McDonald shooting
Officer Jason Van Dyke asked 12 jurors to trust his memory, not a widely circulated dashboard camera video, to know what really happened the night he shot Laquan McDonald 16 times.
The jurors chose the video.
On Friday afternoon, after less than eight hours of deliberating, the jury convicted Van Dyke of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm in the death of Laquan, a black teenager who was carrying a knife but veering away from the police.
Most jurors stayed behind in the courtroom to speak to reporters after the verdict, as Van Dyke, who is white, was booked into jail. They said they found the officer’s description of the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting to be contradictory, overly rehearsed and simply not believable. And they called into question officers’ triedand-true strategy of providing tearful testimony to overcome damaging video evidence when charged in a shooting.
“It seemed kind of like he was finally giving the play after they had been rehearsing with him for weeks,” said one juror, a white woman, who noticed Van Dyke “staring at us, trying to win our sympathy” when he testified.
“We just didn’t buy it,” said the juror, who like all the others declined to give her name.
Van Dyke’s trial was among the most closely watched in Chicago history. Busloads of police officers and state troopers braced for the chaos that many feared would have followed an acquittal.
But inside the jury deliberation room, the main debate was not about whether to acquit or convict. Instead, jurors were split on whether to find Van Dyke guilty of firstdegree murder, which can lead to life in prison, or second-degree murder, which carries a far shorter sentence.
For almost three weeks, the jurors sat nearly expressionless in the courtroom as witness after witness described Laquan’s death. They watched the dashboard camera video dozens of times. They jotted down notes as pathologists and police officers testified. And as time went on, more of them became convinced that Van Dyke had broken the law.
For at least two jurors, the fact that Van Dyke stepped toward Laquan while shooting raised concerns. One juror said she was bothered by inconsistencies between Van Dyke’s initial statements and what the video showed. Another said he was alarmed by Van Dyke’s decision to open fire almost immediately after arriving.
“Instead of escalating the situation, he should have de-escalated it,” said that juror, a white man.
Still, not everyone on the jury was certain of Van Dyke’s guilt when closing arguments ended Thursday. The jury foreperson, a white woman, said an initial blind vote had seven jurors leaning toward guilty, two leaning toward not guilty and another three undecided.
Several hours of discussion that afternoon did not produce a consensus, and some jurors asked the judge for cigarette breaks to help them concentrate. On Thursday evening, a large convoy of sheriff’s deputies escorted the still-divided jurors to a local hotel, where they were sequestered.
The jurors said deliberations were cordial and productive. Initial disagreement over guilt and innocence on Thursday moved toward discussion the next morning about whether to convict on firstor second-degree murder. After about 2 hours of talks Friday, they opted for second-degree because they were convinced Van Dyke thought he was acting legally at the time, even though they determined the shooting was unlawful.
Convicting a police officer of any charge in a fatal shooting is complicated and rare. The law gives the police wide latitude to use deadly force, and an officer’s testimony often carries great weight. Last year, officers who testified in their own defense in Oklahoma, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio were either acquitted or had the charges dropped.
But a Texas police officer who testified was convicted of murder this summer. And after the Chicago jurors described Friday how they discounted Van Dyke’s words, some legal experts suggested defense lawyers might reconsider their tactics.
Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, left, is taken into custody Friday at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago.