Van Dyke trial: Prosecution rests in murder trial of Chicago police officer who killed Laquan McDonald
Prosecutors pursuing murder charges against a white police officer who killed a black teenager in Chicago rested their case on Thursday, clearing the way for defense lawyers to begin calling witnesses next week.
Among the final witnesses prosecutors called on Thursday in the murder trial of Jason Van Dyke, 40, was Urey Patrick, a former FBI agent and excessive force expert, who said the Oct. 20, 2014, killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was unjustified.
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1:30 p.m. Judge denies motion for directed verdict
Lead defense attorney Dan Herbert asked Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan for a directed verdict. That’s when a defense team argues the state has failed to meet its burden and that the case should be tossed.
The request is common but rarely granted. In 2015, it was a directed verdict that led to the acquittal of Chicago police Officer Dante Servin, who was charged with manslaughter for fatally shooting 22-year-old Rekia Boyd in 2012. Servin had been off-duty and was firing into a crowd when she was killed.
Herbert on Thursday said, “The state had the burden of proof in their case that Jason Van Dyke had the intent to do this, to commit the murder. They haven’t done anything to prove the defendant’s state of mind. There’s no evidence he acted with that intent.”
Prosecutor Joseph Cullen countered that “a police officer can kill an individual, but he doesn’t have an unlimited right to kill an individual.”
Gaughan denied the request. The defense will begin presenting witnesses Monday morning.
1:20 p.m. The prosecution rests
After presenting 24 witnesses over four days, the prosecution rests its case.
12:45 p.m. ‘Why the f— are they still shooting him if he’s on the ground?’
Jose Torres testified that McDonald was walking away from police when Van Dyke opened fire. Torres was taking his son, who testified Tuesday, to a North Side hospital when the pair came upon police activity at 41st Street and Pulaski Road.
Torres heard gunshots and saw McDonald fall to the ground: “There was a pause and he wasn’t moving for a little bit. Laquan, he made movements, and 10 more gunshots started coming after that. He seemed like he was in pain.”
Prosecutors asked Torres how many shots he heard.
“Enough to upset me.”
Torres recalled asking his son, “Why the f— are they still shooting him if he’s on the ground?”
12:20 p.m. Van Dyke did not need to use deadly force, expert says
A former FBI agent and Navy veteran who is an expert on deadly force said, “The risk posed by Mr. McDonald did not rise to the necessity of using deadly force to stop it.”
Urey Patrick, who was with the FBI from 1973 to 1997, has trained thousands of state and federal law enforcement officers in the use of force. He said force is necessary when there’s an imminent threat or when an armed dangerous suspect might escape.
Neither was the case with McDonald, Patrick testified.
“He [McDonald] is a risk, there’s no question,” Patrick said. “He’s been noncompliant and he’s armed with a knife. [But] there’s nobody within reach of him, and he couldn’t reach anyone on the scene. That minimized the direct risk that he presented.”
Patrick also took issue with how many shots were fired.
He said that while officers are trained to continue shooting until a threat is over, “they’re not trained to just empty their gun.” A “small spillover” of two or three extra shots is normal in police shootings, Patrick said, but there was no reason for Van Dyke to continue to shoot when McDonald was on the ground.
“When he went down, the shooting should’ve stopped at that point or within a second or so.”
During cross-examination, Herbert brought up the 21-foot rule, Patrick’s own assertion that if someone with a knife rushes an officer from anywhere up to 21 feet — and the officer’s gun is still holstered — the person with the knife “will win every time.”
Patrick said it wasn’t relevant that Van Dyke reloaded his gun on the scene because that’s standard training. It also didn’t matter, Patrick said, that other officers chose not to fire. Van Dyke had a different viewpoint.
11 a.m. Gun fired at ‘deliberate and methodical’ rate
Van Dyke needed to exert 8.1 pounds of pressure each of the 16 times he fired his gun on Oct. 20, 2014, an FBI ballistics expert said Thursday.
With some guns, a shooter only needs to apply pressure for the first shot, Scott Patterson said. But with Van Dyke’s Smith & Wesson handgun, model No. 5943, “all of the trigger presses would’ve felt the same” for the officer.
Patterson said it’s impossible to tell from dashcam video of the fatal shooting exactly when each shot was fired. There’s no audio, and squad car lights prevent a clear view of the gun. Had there been sound, he said, “We could’ve timed the sequence between the first shot and the last shot.”
Still, certain visual cues are helpful. Officers can be seen flinching, likely signaling that Van Dyke had opened fire. Patterson, who works in a ballistic research facility, said it’s common to flinch when you’re not expecting to hear gunshots: “It ‘s loud, and quite frankly, painful, when that shot goes off.”
Patterson testified that 14.2 seconds pass from the first visual evidence of Van Dyke’s gun being fired to the last. McDonald was on the ground for 12.6 of those seconds.
Jurors were shown video of an FBI agent test-firing 16 shots at a stationary target at different speeds. Moving as fast as possible, the agent was able to fire 16 shots in 3.77 seconds. But spread out over 14.2 seconds, the agent moved at a “deliberate and methodical” rate.
Patterson was the state’s 22nd witness to testify. He said the “puffs of smoke” seen in dashcam footage are actually dust, debris or bullet fragments sent upward when bullets hit the ground.