On Friday afternoon, after a day of deliberation, a Cook County jury found Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014. The high-profile shooting commanded national attention after video footage of the shooting—which the city delayed releasing for more than year—was released, showing Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times a mere six seconds after he jumped out of his squad car.
That video would prove critical for the Cook County jury deciding his fate.
Van Dyke was also found guilty of 16 counts of aggravated battery—one for every bullet he fired at McDonald. According to the New York Times, this is the first time in nearly 50 years a Chicago cop has been convicted of murder for an on-duty shooting.
Before the verdict, Judge Vincent Gaughan asked members of the gallery to leave if they could not stomach the verdict, saying there would be “zero tolerance” for emotional outbursts out of respect for the jury.
The judge also thanked the media for their “outstanding” behavior during the trial, emphasizing that transparency was needed in this high-profile case.
During the trial, Van Dyke and his defense tried to paint McDonald as a menace.
Van Dyke described McDonald’s “bugged out” eyes and claimed the teen was expressionless when he encountered him. The cop claimed that McDonald, who was holding a small knife and had his back toward a group of officers already on the scene, began to move his torso and raise his knife, causing the officer to fear for his life.
Van Dyke continued shooting at the teen even after McDonald hit the ground.
“I could see him starting to push up with his left hand off the ground,” Van Dyke said on the stand on Tuesday. “And I see his left shoulder start to come up, and I still see him holding that knife with his right hand not letting go of it. And his eyes are still bugged out. His face has got no expression on it.”
But the dash cam video and an animated reenactment of the shooting contradicted Van Dyke’s testimony.
“You’ve sat here for several days and watched several videos,” said prosecutor Jody Gleason to Van Dyke. “Have you ever seen Laquan McDonald do that on one of those videos?”
“The video doesn’t show my perspective,” Van Dyke claimed throughout his testimony.
After the verdict, Van Dyke’s defense asked for the jury to be polled—meaning each juror was asked, one by one, to state out loud if they stood by their decision. They each said “yes.”
Tensions were high as the city of Chicago—and the country at large—awaited the trial’s outcome. According to the Tribune, Judge Gaughan “promised to arrest anyone who disrespects the jury because they have carried a tremendous burden serving on this case.”
After delivering their verdict, several jurors spoke to the press in the courtroom, the Times reports. One confirmed that acquittal for Van Dyke was “never on the table,” writes the paper, and that the discussion during deliberations was whether Van Dyke was guilty of first or second-degree murder.
One middle-aged female juror—the only black person on the 12-person jury—said Van Dyke failed to move her.
“He messed up,” she said. “His testimony wasn’t credible to me.”
The city began preparing for the verdict Thursday afternoon when closing arguments were made. The Chicago police department had written a lengthy general order for officers, and began extending police shifts to 12 hours, rather than 8 1/2, starting yesterday.
However, all the protests around McDonald’s killing have been peaceful, as this WBEZ post from 2015 notes. Social justice organizers said they would focus on an economic shutdown of the city.
McDonald’s death came to symbolize not just Chicago’s long, fraught history with racist policing, but corruption all the way up to the mayor’s office. Relations between Chicago’s black community, law enforcement and city officials worsened over a year-long delay in releasing video of the deadly incident. Mere hours before the video was released, the Times reports, Van Dyke was charged with murder.
On Friday, Van Dyke had his bond revoked and was taken immediately into custody following the verdict.
This marks the second time in two months a white officer has been found guilty of murdering a black teen. In August, former Texas police officer Roy Oliver was found guilty of murdering 15-year-old Jordan Edwards.
[This post has been updated with quotes from the jurors.]