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Episode 10: Opening Statements

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The murder trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke began in earnest Monday when attorneys for both sides laid out their cases and the first witnesses took the stand.

During opening statements, prosecutor Joseph McMahon implied that race was a factor when the white officer fired 16 shots at black teenager Laquan McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014. Daniel Herbert, the lead attorney representing Van Dyke, adamantly denied that race played a role in the shooting.

This episode is part of 16 Shots, a podcast first released in 2018 about the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald, the trial of Officer Jason Van Dyke, and the troubled relationship between African-Americans and the Chicago Police Department. To hear all the episodes, subscribe on Pocket Casts, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

During his 20-minute speech, McMahon also showed the jury the infamous police dashcam video and called the shooting “completely unnecessary.” He argued that not a single shot needed to be fired because McDonald — who was carrying a knife with a 3-inch blade — was surrounded by 10 officers and five police vehicles.

Herbert responded with a 30-minute speech that painted McDonald as an out-of-control teen who repeatedly refused police commands. He said the video is not from Van Dyke’s perspective and the shooting was justified under Illinois law.

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Prosecutors then called their first witnesses, including two Chicago police officers who testified in their uniforms.

Officer Joseph McElligott, one of the first cops to encounter McDonald the night of the shooting, testified that he had his gun drawn while he followed the teen on foot. He said he didn’t fire because McDonald never moved toward him and that he believed that an officer with a Taser was on the way. He later agreed with Van Dyke’s attorneys that McDonald became more of a threat when the teen ran toward a nearby Burger King.

Officer Dora Fontaine arrived at the scene around the time Van Dyke opened fire. She testified that McDonald refused orders to drop the knife, but he didn’t move aggressively toward officers prior to being shot.

Van Dyke, 40, faces two counts of first-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery, and one count of official misconduct. He is the first Chicago police officer charged with murder for an on-duty shooting in decades.

Here is a recap of other developments that happened inside (and outside) the courthouse Monday.

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