Jury deliberations begin in Chicago officer’s trial in Laquan McDonald killing

Jury deliberations began Thursday afternoon in the high-profile murder trial of Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke in the 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke contemplated shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014 before he even encountered the young man, a prosecutor said during closing arguments at the officer’s high-profile murder trial Thursday.

“You heard what it was that he said, ‘I guess we’ll have to shoot him,’ ” assistant special prosecutor Jody Gleason told the jury, referring to testimony about what Van Dyke told his partner before arriving at the scene.

“It wasn’t the knife in Laquan’s hand that made the defendant kill him that night. It was his indifference to the value of Laquan’s life.”

Defense attorney Daniel Herbert, in his closing, sought to discount one of the state’s main pieces of evidence — video of the shooting.

“We have to look at this from Jason Van Dyke’s perspective,” he said.

At another point, he told the jury: “This case is a tragedy no question, but it’s not a murder. It’s a tragedy that could have been prevented with one simple step. At any step during that 20-minute rampage — if Laquan McDonald had dropped that knife — he would have been here today.”

Van Dyke faces two counts of first-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery and one count of official misconduct for the shooting and killing of the black teenager. The white officer faces up to life in prison if convicted.

The defense rested Wednesday after calling 20 witnesses.

Officer took the stand in defense

Video of the shooting sparked protests, a Justice Department civil rights investigation, criticism of the city’s mayor and eventually the ouster of the police superintendent.

Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer to be charged with first-degree murder since 1980.

Van Dyke took the stand Tuesday, telling the jury that McDonald’s face was expressionless — “his eyes were just bugging out of his head” — as the teenager kept “advancing” on him, holding a knife.

Standing about 10 to 15 feet away, McDonald “turned his torso towards me,” the officer testified.

“He waved the knife from his lower right side, upwards, across his body, towards my left shoulder,” the officer said, appearing to get choked up as he demonstrated the action to jurors.

The officer told jurors he then shot McDonald.

Still, McDonald refused his repeated commands to drop the knife, even as he lay wounded, Van Dyke said. McDonald appeared to be trying to get up after the officer stopped shooting, so Van Dyke reloaded — as he was trained to do — and fired at the knife, he said.

“I could see him starting to push up with his left hand off the ground. I see his left shoulder start to come up. I still see him holding that knife with his right hand, not letting go of it,” Van Dyke said. “His eyes are still bugged out. His face has got no expression on it.”

He told jurors: “I just kept on looking at the knife, and I shot at it. I just wanted him to get rid of that knife.”

But a prosecutor pointed out inconsistencies in Van Dyke’s depiction of the fatal encounter.

The prosecution said Van Dyke fired unnecessarily within six seconds after arriving at the scene, striking McDonald 16 times.

Dashcam video

The shooting was captured on a grainy police dashcam video. Van Dyke said he fired in self-defense after McDonald lunged at him with the knife. But the dashcam video — which a judge ordered the city to release 13 months after the shooting — showed McDonald walking away from police, rather than charging at them.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Gleason tried to challenge Van Dyke’s assertion that McDonald raised the knife.

“You’ve sat here for several days and watched several videos. … Have you ever seen Laquan McDonald do that on one of those videos?” Gleason asked.

Van Dyke said the dashcam video and an animated recreation of the shooting presented by the defense didn’t show his perspective. But he acknowledged he didn’t see McDonald raising the knife in the recreation.

The video shows McDonald walking toward a fence on his right as Van Dyke’s squad car pulls up, facing the teenager, to the youth’s left.