Nearly four years after Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke unloaded 16 bullets into Laquan McDonald, his murder trial is set to begin in earnest.
The long-awaited trial will start with opening arguments on Monday, but first, Judge Vincent Gaughan will make a decision on the defense’s request to move the trial out of Cook County, the Chicago Tribune reports. Because police-community relations are so strained in Chicago, Van Dyke’s team is arguing that it would be impossible for their client to get a fair trial in the city.
Given that 12 Cook County jurors have already been selected for the trial, Judge Gaughan is expected to turn down the defense’s request.
Jury selection for the trial has been controversial, with only one juror being black. As the New York Times reports, this is out of step with Cook County’s demographics; a quarter of the county’s residents are black, and approximately 40 percent are white.
There was a lot of back and forth between the prosecution and defense about the makeup of the jury, with both sides accusing the other of making decisions based on race.
From the Times:
Prosecutors used four peremptory strikes on white men, including one who has a pro-police bumper sticker on his vehicle and another who is in the process of becoming a Chicago police officer. Defense lawyers used five peremptory strikes on people who are not white, including a black man who serves as a church elder and a black woman who was filling out her jury questionnaire when she was told that her son had been shot.
Six of the jurors deciding Van Dyke’s fate appeared to be white, with three Latinx jurors and one Asian. A twelfth juror may have been white or Latinx, reports the Times.
The contentious jury selection reflects the high stakes of the trial. In October 2014, multiple police officers responded to a call about a person allegedly breaking into vehicles at a trucking yard. Officers encountered 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was holding a three inch knife, and followed him for several blocks. At one point, they radioed in for help, requesting an officer with a Taser come to the scene.
The situation escalated when Officer Van Dyke arrived. Leaving his car with his gun drawn, the Chicago police officer began shooting within seconds, firing 16 bullets into the teenage boy’s body. Van Dyke later defended his actions by saying he had feared for his safety and that of the other officers.
The Times notes that “of at least seven officers on the scene,” he was the only one who fired his weapon. A recent report found that, prior to Laquan’s shooting, Van Dyke was in the top three percent of Chicago police officers in receiving civilian complaints.
Relations between the black community in Chicago, law enforcement, and city officials worsened over a year-long delay in releasing video of the deadly incident. The explosive video, in which Laquan is seen being shot as he’s walking away, made his death a national story. Mere hours before the video was released, the Times reports, Van Dyke was charged with murder.
While the video footage is damning, it will be an uphill climb to get a murder conviction against a police officer in Cook County, as is true everywhere else in the country. According to the Tribune, the last time an officer was convicted of murder for an on-duty killing was 1970.