Strongest moments for both sides during trial’s 2nd week
Officer Jason Van Dyke’s legal team put on the bulk of its evidence last week in his murder trial for the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald.
It has been decades since a Chicago police officer has been charged with murder for an on-duty incident, making the trial one of the most closely watched — and hyper-analyzed — cases in recent Cook County memory.
Prosecutors have argued that Van Dyke had no legal justification for the shooting because the teen posed no threat, but the officer’s attorneys have attempted to paint McDonald as a violent person who disobeyed police commands to drop his knife.
With the defense approaching the end of its case after calling 16 witnesses, here’s a look at the strongest moments last week from each side.
For the defense
The jury heard that minutes before McDonald was shot, he tried to stab a truck driver whose 911 call sparked the police response that night. A rapt jury watched as Rudy Barillas demonstrated how the attacker — identified in opening statements as McDonald — thrust the knife toward him in a desolate parking lot on the city’s Southwest Side as he tried to fend him off by throwing his cellphone and then gravel at him. The offender fled as Barillas called police. His story bolsters the defense contention that the 17year-old McDonald was on a “wild rampage” in the hours before his death.
The defense drumbeat about McDonald’s so-called rampage continued with a pharmacology expert who tested the teen was “whacked on this PCP.” James Thomas O’Donnell told the jury the drug can cause “severe rage, aggression, violent behavior, drug-induced psychosis.” He said McDonald was more vulnerable to the hallucinogen because he hadn’t taken his prescribed medication — a mood stabilizer and an antipsychotic. His testimony buttressed the description of police officers who have described the teen as “unfazed” and “deranged.”
The jury watched a four-minute animated video that purports to show Van Dyke’s perspective during the shooting. The computer-generated model, which cost the defense five-figures, offered laser-based technology to counter the police dashboard camera video that shows the officer open fire within six seconds of exiting his squad car and continue firing even after the teen is crumpled on the pavement. The animation shows McDonald flicking open a knife before Van Dyke and his partner, Joseph Walsh, get out of their squad car. The view then shifts to an overhead perspective above the street, showing McDonald — in somewhat crude, herky-jerky movements — “closing the distance” to a point that was almost parallel to the officer.
For the prosecution
In a potential blow to the defense team’s wild rampage theory, witness Yvette Patterson told the jury about an encounter she had with McDonald about 19 hours before the fatal shooting. Patterson, who lives next door to McDonald’s aunt, said the teen asked to use her car after she returned home from a party at 3 a.m. It was late, and she did not know him, so she called 911 as a precaution before going inside her home. Though the defense had told the jury in opening statements that Patterson was “petrified” during the incident, she testified that she and McDonald were “laughing and talking” and that he “seemed like a nice young guy.”
The defense’s animated video potentially scored some points for the prosecution as well. The video does not show McDonald raising a knife to his shoulder and menacing police with the weapon as Van Dyke’s partner has testified. Nor does it show McDonald lifting the knife across his chest and pointing it at the officers as Van Dyke told investigators following the shooting. It omits most of the 16 bullets that struck McDonald, including all the shots fired by the officer after the teen had fallen to the street. The animation also contradicted the defense team’s own pathology expert who testified that at least 14 of the shots occurred before he collapsed.
The prosecution successfully persuaded Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan to block the testimony of four defense witnesses last week, most of whom were expected to bolster the defense’s portrait of McDonald as a violent young man who behaved bizarrely in the 24 hours leading up to his fatal encounter with police.