Episode 15: The Defense Begins

Episode 15: The Defense Begins

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A forensic pathologist hired by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s legal team spent hours on the witness stand Monday giving testimony that challenged the autopsy and previous witnesses, and seemed to contradict a video showing the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Dr. Shaku Teas, the first witness called by Van Dyke’s defense team, said a shot to McDonald’s chest “caused him to die rapidly.” The other 15 shots, she said, would have caused injury but were “totally immaterial” to the 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.

In a direct contradiction to witnesses called by the prosecution, Teas also testified that McDonald was likely still standing when he was hit with at least the first 12 bullets. Last week, expert witnesses and Van Dyke’s partner said McDonald collapsed within two seconds of the first bullet hitting him — and the teen was on the ground as the shooting continued.

Prosecutors also argued with Teas about when McDonald died. Last week, prosecutors called witnesses that said the teen still had a pulse when he was put in an ambulance. But Teas insisted that death is a process, and the shot to the chest was fatal almost immediately.

Van Dyke, 40, faces first-degree murder, aggravated battery, and official misconduct charges for the Oct. 20, 2014 shooting. The case got national attention when the city was forced to release a police dashcam video of the white cop shooting the black teen.

Van Dyke’s attorneys have argued that the officer was afraid for his life and acted according to his training. Prosecutors have stressed that no other officers who encountered McDonald opened fire.

One of the major unanswered questions: Will Van Dyke take the stand?

Here is a look at other developments inside (and outside) the courtroom.

  • Current and former Cook County Juvenile Detention Center employees testified how McDonald got into fights, needed to be restrained, and admitted to taking PCP.
  • The number of protesters increased Monday, and pastors and activists had communion together outside the courthouse.

  • Van Dyke’s priest, who has been in the courtroom for the trial, told reporters Monday that he does not believe the officer committed murder.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.