Ep 10: Opening Statements | WBEZ
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16 Shots

Ep 10: Opening Statements

Updated 6:30 p.m.

  • Prosecutors said Officer Jason Van Dyke didn’t need to shoot Laquan McDonald.
  • Lawyers representing Van Dyke said the shooting was justified under Illinois law.
  • Two officers took the stand and told the jury what they saw before the shooting.
  • This story is part of 16 Shots, a podcast 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, listen on Pocket Casts, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

    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.

    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.

    • Prosecutors announced they had dropped four of the six counts of first-degree murder.

    • Dick Devine, who was Cook County state’s attorney from 1996 to 2008, told WBEZ Chicago that prosecutors were probably “cleaning it up to make whatever is submitted to the jury easier for the jury to understand.” The move, which isn’t uncommon, likely doesn’t reduce the amount of prison time Van Dyke could face if convicted, he said.

    • Before opening statements, lawyers from both sides presented a handful of last-minute motions. Notably: Judge Vincent Gaughan ruled the trail will remain in Cook County, and prosecutors can say other officers didn’t open fire.

    • Outside the courthouse, only a handful of protesters gathered on the sidewalk Monday morning. Activist William Calloway said opening statements came at short notice for some protesters. He added that people will come out “as necessary.”

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