CHICAGO – Several dozen would-be jurors reported to a courthouse Wednesday and were told by a judge they might be asked to decide whether a Chicago police officer committed murder when he shot and killed black teenager Laquan McDonald.
Nearly four years after officer Jason Van Dyke shot the 17-year-old and nearly three years after the city was forced to release police video of the shooting, the first phase of Van Dyke’s trial started with the distribution of questionnaires to prospective jurors to fill out before attorneys question them in their effort to select a jury. That questioning is expected to begin next week.
The potential jurors were not officially told before they arrived at the courthouse what trial they might be selected for. But they had to walk past a crowd of protesters and a small army of law enforcement officers outside the courthouse on the city’s South Side before the judge told them what case they’d been called for.
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. McDonald was shot 16 times. Video shows Van Dyke opened fire as McDonald walked away from police with a knife in his hand.
Van Dyke’s attorneys also have filed a motion asking that the trial be moved out of Chicago, arguing that extensive publicity has made it impossible for the officer to get a fair trial in the city where the video sparked massive protests. Judge Vincent Gaughan has said he will decide on the change of venue motion after he hears from potential jurors during jury selection.
Van Dyke’s attorneys also have put off announcing whether they want a jury or the judge alone to decide the case. The attorneys do not have to decide whether they want a jury trial or what is called a bench trial until the 12th juror is sworn in.