Jury was un­swayed by of­fi­cer’s story in McDon­ald shoot­ing

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY MITCH SMITH New York Times

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.

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