Episode 12: The Autopsy Explained

Episode 12: The Autopsy Explained

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

A forensic pathologist spent hours on the witness stand Wednesday meticulously explaining each of the wounds Laquan McDonald suffered when he was fatally shot by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014.

Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, the chief medical examiner in Cook County, confirmed McDonald was shot 16 times. She said an autopsy cannot determine the order in which the bullets struck McDonald — or which bullets caused his death.

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.

Arunkumar also testified that McDonald was alive for each shot, a statement that Van Dyke’s lead attorney later questioned during cross-examination. Van Dyke’s lawyer, Daniel Herbert, said that an expert hired by his defense team believed two of the wounds would have been “rapidly fatal.”

McDonald — who police suspected of breaking into trucks and was carrying a knife with a three-inch blade when he was shot — had traces of PCP in his body when he died, Arunkumar said.

Van Dyke, 40, faces two counts of first-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery, and one count of official misconduct.

Here is a recap of some other developments inside (and outside) the courtroom Wednesday:

  • Gregory Brate, a state police firearms expert, testified that all the shots fired at McDonald came from the same gun.

  • Judge Vincent Gaughan let prosecutors call back FBI forensic video expert Mark Messick to the stand. On Tuesday, Gaughan told jurors to ignore Messick’s “confusing” testimony, which included a slow-motion version of the infamous dashcam video.

  • The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a Chicago civil rights activist, attended a portion of the hearing on Wednesday. During a courthouse press conference, Jackson called McDonald’s death “the most heinous crime since the lynching of Emmett Till.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.