Episode 6: Jury Selection Begins

Episode 6: Jury Selection Begins

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The highly-anticipated murder trial of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke started Wednesday — but opening statements aren’t expected to begin anytime soon.

Van Dyke, 40, faces first-degree murder, aggravated battery, and official misconduct charges in the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

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.

The officer wasn’t charged until a judge ordered in November 2015 that city officials release a police dashcam video of the shooting. The recording of the white officer shooting the black teen sparked protests and political fallout.

After years of pretrial arguments, the jury selection process began Wednesday. But in an unusual move, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan asked about 200 potential jurors to fill out a questionnaire and come back next week to the courthouse on Chicago’s Southwest Side. The questions were under seal and have not yet been made public.

Gaughan introduced groups of potential jurors to Van Dyke, who stood quietly, and then the judge gave instructions on the questionnaires.

“This is the only time your government can draft you into service,” Gaughan told a group of potential jurors. “That’s how important this is.”

Van Dyke’s defense team can still opt to have a judge decide his fate until the last juror is sworn in. But if they choose the jury route, Gaughan must find 12 people he thinks can reach a verdict based only on trial evidence — not past or current media coverage.

Van Dyke’s defense team has argued that will be impossible. They have filed a motion to move the trial outside of Cook County, but Gaughan won’t rule on that change-of-venue request until after efforts are made to find an impartial jury at the Chicago courthouse. That selection process will continue Monday, when the judge will interview potential jurors face to face.

Here are other notes from the first day of proceedings.

  • Few people were allowed inside the courtroom. Van Dyke was there with his father. McDonald’s mother and sister were allowed in, but some other family members were turned away, according to McDonald’s great uncle, Rev. Marvin Hunter.
  • Gaughan kicked a woman sitting with the McDonald family out of the courtroom for wearing a T-shirt that said, “Jason Van Dyke? Murder.” She was allowed back in after having put on a sweater.
  • Outside the courthouse, hundreds protesters gathered in a fenced-in area across the street. They said they won’t be back until Monday. “We are asking people to come back and convene the day that jury is requested back. … This is marathon and not a sprint,” activist William Calloway said.
  • The day ended with Van Dyke’s defense team asking that all 200 potential jurors be disqualified because they could have been influenced by the “gauntlet” of potential jurors outside the courthouse. Gaughan said, in his experience, any bias can be detected in a later part of jury selection.