Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer charged with murder in the 2014 shooting death of teenager Laquan McDonald while on duty, was found guilty on Friday.
A Cook County jury deliberated for less than eight hours over two days in the case, in which Van Dyke faced the possibility of life in prison for shooting 17-year-old McDonald 16 times on a Chicago street in October 2014. Van Dyke was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery and one of official misconduct, and jurors were told they could opt to find him guilty of a lesser charge of second-degree murder.
Chicago police were on high alert as the city prepared for a verdict in the rare trial of an officer accused of murder for an on-duty killing. Hundreds of police were seen packing street corners and city parks. Jurors, who deliberated for five hours on Thursday and about 2 1/2 more on Friday, were sequestered by Judge Vincent Gaughan and kept at an unidentified hotel overnight.
Van Dyke testified in his own defense that he feared for his life and that McDonald was behaving erratically (an autopsy revealed PCP in his system). His defense team cited a state law that allows officers to use deadly force if it’s necessary to stop a fleeing suspect who has committed a felony while using a deadly weapon, according to Vice News. McDonald was carrying a knife at the time, but police dashboard camera footage refuted Van Dyke’s claim that the teen was aggressively swinging the blade at him.
Three other officers await trial on charges of trying to cover up the killing and obscure the investigation.
Assistant prosecutor Jody Gleason argued that Van Dyke had no right to fire even one shot, let alone 16, including several that struck the teen in the back, and while he was already on the ground.
“It’s Jason Van Dyke firing bullets, ripping into the flesh of Laquan McDonald 16 times. That’s not justified, that’s not necessary — that’s first-degree murder,” prosecutor Joseph McMahon told jurors, according to NPR. He urged jurors to convict on first-degree murder and aggravated battery.
Van Dyke’s lawyer, Dan Herbert, compared the scene that night to a monster movie, telling jurors that McDonald had attacked a truck driver and slashed a police vehicle’s tires just before he was shot.
“When a monster turns and looks at the victim, that’s when the music starts to play,” the defense lawyer said.
Two alternative jurors who were dismissed from the trial on Thursday said they would have leaned toward finding the officer guilty of murder, according to the Chicago Tribune.
One of them, a white woman, noted that other officers on scene that night didn’t use deadly force.
“Where was [McDonald] actually causing an issue that Jason Van Dyke thought that he needed to use deadly force? I just didn’t understand that,” the alternative juror told the newspaper.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.