A Chicago judge ruled on Wednesday that prosecutors will be unable to call Laquan McDonald, who was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer, a victim until closing arguments.
Attorneys defending Officer Jason Van Dyke, the officer who is facing charges of first-degree murder and other firearm offenses in McDonald’s death, have claimed that their client was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed the 17-year-old in October 2014.
Van Dyke’s defense pushed forward several motions to stop potential evidence and testimony that the defense claimed could be prejudicial, including calling McDonald’s death a homicide, according to CNN.
Prosecutors meanwhile argued that Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder and there is a victim in the case, however, while Gaughan acknowledged that there is someone dead in the case, it’s up to the jury to determine whether or not McDonald was a victim.
“Here we have the defense of self-defense. So, if it’s justified, justified use of force, then there is no victim,” Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan said. “Certainly, there is a person that’s dead as a result of this tragic situation but that doesn’t mean that the person is a victim legally.”
Well, color me floored.
Gaughan then conceded that prosecutors could use the word “victim” in closing arguments “if the evidence supports it.”
“The main issue in the case is whether McDonald was a ‘victim’ or a threat to the officer. The judge could conclude that use of that word is prejudicial to the defendant. Many judges would see it differently, but I see his point,” CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.
That being said, barring the word, Toobin believes, should not affect the prosecution’s case.
“The jury will understand that its job is to evaluate whether the shooting was justified,” Toobin said.
Although Gaughan barred the word “victim,” the word “homicide” will be allowed, as forensic pathologists define homicide as death by another person.
Van Dyke’s trial is scheduled for Sept. 5.
In dash cam video that was released 400 days after the shooting occurred, Van Dyke was seen firing 16 shots at McDonald, who appeared to try to move away from police, a 4-inch knife in his hand. Van Dyke started shooting within seconds of arriving on the scene, and continued to fire his weapon even after McDonald fell to the ground. That video contradicted just about everything that police said happened, including claims that McDonald lunged at police “swinging the knife in an aggressive, exaggerated manner,” and ignoring orders.
Van Dyke’s partner Joseph Walsh, and two other officers, Detective David March and officer Thomas Gaffney, backed up those claims, and have since been accused of allegedly covering for Van Dyke in the fatal shooting and are charged with conspiracy, misconduct, and obstruction of justice
Defense attorneys also tried to suppress the damning dashcam video, but Gaughan did not let that go far.
“Certainly, you’re going to be allowed to play the dashcam video,” Gaughan told prosecutors.
If convicted, Van Dyke could face up to life in prison.