An expected appeal of Jason Van Dyke’s murder conviction will be in the hands of attorneys who won the acquittal of a Chicago police detective who shot and killed an unarmed woman.
Attorney Darren O’Brien confirmed he and Jennifer Blagg have agreed with Lodge 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police to take up the case and challenge the fairness of Van Dyke’s trial if the jailed former officer loses long-shot motions asking the trial judge to throw out his guilty verdict.
O’Brien and Blagg defended Det. Dante Servin in his 2015 trial on charges including involuntary manslaughter stemming from his off-duty shooting of Rekia Boyd, 22. The judge ended that trial with a directed finding for Servin before the detective’s team had even presented its defense.
Defendants often switch attorneys for an appeal, either because they can afford to hire an appellate specialist or because the court has appointed one at no cost.
But the switch for Van Dyke stands out after a vote last month by the Lodge 7 board to quit referring police officers who need legal assistance to Dan Herbert, the attorney who has represented Van Dyke since before his 2015 indictment.
That vote took place after the jury in Van Dyke’s trial convicted him of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm for his 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, 17.
Asked why the FOP, which has paid much of Van Dyke’s legal expenses, has hired O’Brien and Blagg for the appeal, union spokesman Martin Preib declined to comment.
O’Brien said he and Blagg met with Van Dyke last month in Rock Island County Jail, a facility three hours west of Chicago, where he is being held pending his sentencing. The attorney declined to comment on plans for the appeal.
Experts say possible issues for the appeal include Judge Vincent Gaughan’s denial of a defense motion to move the trial outside Cook County — away from protesters and the case’s most intense media coverage.
Before Servin’s trial, O’Brien was a prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, where he started in 1984 and worked on some high-profile cases, including the 1993 massacre at Brown’s Chicken, a suburban fast-food outlet.
O’Brien received unflattering attention when the Chicago Sun-Times reported he had declined to charge R.J. Vanecko, a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, for the 2004 killing of David Koschman, 21.
O’Brien is familiar with the Van Dyke case. He represented Lt. Anthony Wojcik, a boss of former Det. David March, one of three defendants now on trial for an alleged police conspiracy to cover-up for Van Dyke.
Wojcik hired O’Brien in 2015 as local and federal investigators looked into the alleged cover-up. Wojcik left the police department in 2016. Later that year, the city’s inspector general recommended the dismissal of 11 officers over their reporting about McDonald’s shooting.
After Wojcik’s departure, O’Brien said it had nothing to do with the investigations. Later, O’Brien also denied characterizations of Wojcik as a “co-conspirator.”
Blagg’s background includes more than six years as an Illinois assistant appellate defender. In private practice, apart from the Servin trial, she won the exoneration of Norman McIntosh, released from prison in 2016 after his conviction for a 2001 murder was overturned.
Herbert is expected to remain on the Van Dyke case for arguments about the post-trial motions at a hearing this Friday. If Gaughan denies them, it is unclear which attorneys would represent Van Dyke at sentencing, which has not been scheduled.