Strong­est mo­ments for both sides dur­ing trial’s 2nd week

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAN­D - By Christy Gu­towski and Stacy St. Clair

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.

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