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Last jurors picked in police shooting case

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014, listens during a hearing Sept. 6 at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago.
Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014, listens during a hearing Sept. 6 at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago.

CHICAGO – Opening statements are expected to begin Monday in the murder trial of a white Chicago police officer charged in the 2014 shooting death of black teenager Laquan McDonald after prosecutors and defense attorneys settled on the final jurors and alternates on Thursday.

Jury selection wrapped up much more quickly than expected, with question of prospects taking only 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 on Thursday afternoon.

Now the question is whether the selected jurors will ever get a chance to decide the fate of officer Jason Van Dyke. Defense attorneys have been considering whether to allow the jury to hear the evidence or choose a bench trial in which the judge makes the decision. On Thursday, Judge Vincent Gaughan told the officer’s attorneys that they have until Friday to tell him their decision.

Van Dyke’s attorneys also have asked that the trial be moved out of Chicago because, they contend, extensive media coverage has made it impossible for Van Dyke to get a fair trial in Cook County. Gaughan has not announced a decision on that request.

Although jury selection only took a few days, the process raised questions that are certain to come up during the trial. Most of the prospective jurors said they had seen the police video of the 2014 encounter in which Van Dyke shot McDonald
16 times. Some jurors who were excused said they could not be impartial after what they had seen on the video, which was released in November 2015.

The dashcam video shows Van Dyke opened fire as McDonald walked away from police with a knife in his hand. The release of the video sparked large protests, the ouster of the police superintendent and demands for police reform.

Even those who were picked expressed concern, with the last male juror saying that he thought the officer had “gone too far” when he shot the 17-year-old.

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