Laquan McDonald Killer Goes on Trial in Chicago this Week

Laquan McDonald
Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. He goes on trial September 5.

After more than two years of pre-trial hearings, testimonies, delays, endless motions and countless protests, the wait is over for the family of Laquan McDonald. The real fight begins for the Chicago police officer who killed him with 16 shots, and the alleged cover up that has Mayor Rahm Emanuel fighting for re-election.

Activists have plans to occupy a block in front of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, organizer Will Calloway announced at a news conference Tuesday, August 28. Calloway said he received a permit to occupy California Avenue between 26th and 27th streets throughout the trial, which starts September 5.

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Media organizations from across the globe will descend on the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on the West Side at the start of arguably the biggest trial in Chicago history.

Judgement day has arrived for Officer Jason Van Dyke. The spotlight will also be on the Chicago Police Department, which for years has been accused of and criticized for allowing police misconduct to fester without disciplining its officers before one of its own brutally killed a 17-year-old.

Emanuel and City Hall will be watching closely after they were accused of suppressing the dash cam video tape as the mayor campaigned in the Black community to get re-elected to a second term.

The Chicago Crusader is part of an approved media pool that will report on the proceedings from courtroom 500. The long-awaited trial is expected to keep Chicago in the national spotlight as it makes front pages and leads evening newscasts.

Judge Vincent Gaughan will preside over the proceedings. Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon leads a team of prosecutors. Van Dyke’s defense team will be led by Daniel Herbert, a prominent, high powered attorney who has served as legal counsel for the Fraternal Order of  Police.

Judge Gaughan has served on the bench since 1992. A Vietnam War hero, Gaughan has previously presided over several high-profile trials, including R. Kelly’s child pornography case and Palatine’s Brown’s Chicken and Pasta massacre. Sharp and quick to chastise attorneys and praise them minutes later, Gaughan is a maverick judge who is not swayed by public criticism.

This summer, media organizations made an unprecedented appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court after Gaughan in the Van Dyke case ordered some files sealed and off limits to the media and the public. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of the press and ordered Gaughan to end the practice.

There is concern that with Gaughan’s style, Van Dyke’s lawyers will opt for a bench trial rather than a jury trial. In the last month, there were indications that the proceedings will include a jury trial, but Van Dyke’s team could still opt for a bench trial if their request to move the proceedings outside of Cook County is denied.

After hearing the defense’s argument that Cook County residents have been exposed to too much publicity regarding the case, Gaughan earlier this month said he would hold off on that request until after jury selection.

Prosecutors are expected to argue that Van Dyke was unjustified in using excessive force as he shot McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke’s lawyers will argue that McDonald caused his own death and had shown a propensity to commit violent acts during his life.

Van Dyke appeared on Fox News last week and accused the prosecution of being politically motivated.  He said he did was he was trained to do, but told the station he’s petrified at the thought of going to prison.

“I’m extremely nervous,” he said during the only interview he’s given about the case.  “I’m petrified at the fact that I may be going to prison for the rest of my life for an act that I was trained to do by the Chicago Police Department.”

Van Dyke said during his time as a Chicago Police Officer he had several other encounters with people holding guns or knives, but “I never had to fire my gun at an individual, an offender. Never wanted to. Nobody wants to fire their gun,” he said.  In the case of McDonald, though, Van Dyke not only fired his gun, but he shot the young man 16 times.

The activist group, #Justice4Laquan, held several press conferences to help prepare Chicago’s Black community for the trial. In a “Tool-kit” emailed to the Crusader, the group said some 20 community and civic organizations are involved in the movement, including Black Lives Matter, the Chicago Alliance, BYP100 and CUre Violence. The toolkit encourages individuals to be active on social media the week before the trial date and encourages people to be at the courthouse on September 5.

This story first appeared in the Chicago Crusader.  The Advocate contributed to the repost.