Judge: Summer trial for officer charged in Laquan McDonald case

Video of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald sparked months of turmoil and protests across the city

By Megan Crepeau
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The murder trial of Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke will go forward sometime this summer, the Cook County judge presiding over the case insisted at a court hearing Wednesday.

“I’m not going to say the specific month, but it will go to trial this summer,” Judge Vincent Gaughan said from the bench, noting that he doesn’t want bad weather to keep people from getting to the courthouse. “I want the weather to be the best. That’s something we have a little bit of control over.”

Jason Van Dyke approaches the bench as his case is called on Nov. 2, 2016, at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago. (Nancy Stone/ Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Jason Van Dyke approaches the bench as his case is called on Nov. 2, 2016, at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago. (Nancy Stone/ Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Van Dyke’s eventual trial promises to be the most closely watched in Cook County, if not the nation. Dashcam video of the officer fatally shooting teenager Laquan McDonald was released in 2015 by court order the same day Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, sparking months of turmoil and protests across the city.

Local activists have expressed frustration with the lengthy pretrial process, but it is not uncommon for high-profile Cook County murder cases to stretch out for four to five years before getting a trial date.

And attorneys still seem to have several hurdles to clear before trial, including the defense’s attempt to get the case moved to a different county. Attorneys as of Wednesday were still sifting through subpoenaed material and submitting qualifications for proposed expert witnesses. The defense is preparing an animated video, the details of which have not been made public and which prosecutors said Wednesday they had not yet seen. And in the meantime, attorneys for several news outlets are trying to access paperwork that Gaughan has shielded from view — documents that normally would be made public as a matter of routine.

There were signs at Wednesday’s hearing that Gaughan has grown impatient with the pace of the proceedings.

Attorneys for the media outlets asked Gaughan for permission to view Van Dyke’s court file in the judge’s chambers so they could determine exactly how many documents are being kept under wraps. The judge denied their request, instead telling them to prepare for arguments next month about what should be released.

“We have to focus on the path to get this thing to trial, and we can’t be looking at side streets,” Gaughan said. “Right now we have a path. This may not be the perfect path, but this is the one right now.”

Defense attorneys Wednesday filed their motion for a change of venue — which could result in the proceedings being moved to a different county, or having out-of-county jurors selected to hear the case in the Leighton Criminal Court Building. But when defense attorney Randy Rueckert told the judge that the defense’s polling expert’s report on the change of venue would not be available until May, Gaughan grew frustrated, telling them to have the numbers by mid-April or make their expert fly in from out of state to testify about why his report isn’t ready.

“I asked you to do this the beginning of February,” Gaughan said. “It’s unacceptable.”

©2018 the Chicago Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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