CHICAGO – Attorneys for a white Chicago police officer charged with murder in the 2014 fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald announced Friday that they will stick with a jury for the trial rather than have a judge decide the case.
Judge Vincent Gaughan had set a Friday deadline for Jason Van Dyke to say whether he wanted to switch to a bench trial in which the judge would have decided the officer’s fate. Opening statements are planned for Monday.
The court vetted and selected 12 jurors and five alternates during the past week.
After saying his client would stick with a jury trial, defense attorney Daniel Herbert said Van Dyke didn’t necessarily want the current jurors. He argued that the presence of demonstrators and police outside the courthouse from the start of jury selection sent the message that hearing evidence in this trial could be dangerous.
“The jury panel was prejudiced upon arrival,” Herbert told the judge.
But the judge denied the defense request to toss the current panel, saying none of the jurors expressed fear for their safety during questioning this week.
Herbert also renewed his request that the trial be moved from Cook County, where Chicago is located, to a location that has not been saturated with news about the Van Dyke case. Gaughan said he would decide that question after swearing in the last jurors Monday, a strong indication that he has no intention of changing the venue.
Jury selection wrapped up much more quickly than expected, with questioning of prospects taking just three days. The 12-person jury is made up of seven whites, three Hispanics, one African-American and one Asian-American. Attorneys also picked five alternates.
Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct. He has pleaded not guilty; his attorneys have contended that he was in fear for his life when he shot McDonald 16 times. Video shows Van Dyke opening fire as the 17-year-old walks away from police with a knife in his hand.
That video will be one of the centerpieces at the trial. Its release in November 2015 sparked large protests, the ouster of the police superintendent and demands for police reform.
Most of the prospective jurors said they had seen the video, and some who were excused said they could not be impartial. Even those who were picked for the panel expressed concern, with the last male juror saying that he thought the officer had “gone too far” when he shot McDonald.
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