A jury on Friday convicted white Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder in the 2014 shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald.
Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder in the October 2014 killing, a charge that requires a finding that the shooting was unnecessary and unreasonable.
The judge had told jurors the second-degree charge was also available, requiring them to find Van Dyke believed his life was in danger but that the belief was unreasonable.
It’s the first time in half a century that a Chicago cop has been convicted of murder for an on-duty death.
McDonald was carrying a knife when Van Dyke fired 16 shots into the 17-year-old as he walked away from police.
Chicago had been bracing for the announcement of the verdict amid fears of possible demonstrations in the high-profile case, which has already sparked protests.
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan warned people in the courtroom: “I don’t want anybody to second-guess” the jurors.
“Nobody will be allowed to make any outburst or anything else like that,” Gaughan said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I guarantee, I’m going to arrest you. Look into your hearts and control your emotion.”
He told the panel of eight women and four men — seven of them white, one black, three Hispanic and one Asian — before they began deliberating Thursday that they would have the option of convicting Van Dyke of the lesser charge of second-degree murder.
To do so, they would have to find that the cop believed the shooting was justified because his life was in danger, but that his belief was unreasonable.
First-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of life. If convicted of second-degree murder, he could face 15 years or more in prison, but probation also remains an option with that charge.
During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor Jody Gleason pointed to dashcam footage of Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times as the teen held a knife at his side.
She said Van Dyke told investigators that McDonald raised the knife, that the officer backpedaled, and that the teen tried to get up off the ground after being shot.
“None of that happened,” she said. “You’ve seen it on video. He made it up.”
But Van Dyke’s attorney, Dan Herbert, said the video doesn’t tell the whole story and is “essentially meaningless based on the testimony” jurors heard.
He mentioned testimony from Van Dyke’s partner that night, Joseph Walsh, who said he saw the teen raise the knife, even though the video doesn’t show that.
Van Dyke made similar claims on the witness stand as he told the jury that he was afraid for his life and acted according to his training.
“The video is not enough,” he said. “It shows a perspective, but it’s the wrong perspective.”
With Post wires
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