News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke Takes Stand In Laquan McDonald Murder Trial


And now to Chicago, where police Officer Jason Van Dyke's defense team rested its case today. Van Dyke is charged with murder for the on-duty shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald. It's the first time in decades that a Chicago police officer has been charged with murder for an on-duty shooting. The McDonald case caused major political upheaval in Chicago and sparked reforms to its police department. From member station WBEZ, Shannon Heffernan reports.

SHANNON HEFFERNAN, BYLINE: When Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald in October of 2014, police first reported that he was lunging at them with a knife. But after political pressure and a lawsuit, the city was forced to release a dash cam video of the incident. That video is a fundamental piece of evidence in this trial. In it, McDonald appears to be walking away from officers. It shows Van Dyke shooting him 16 times, including after the teenager was lying on the ground. After its release, activists took to the streets, chanting 16 shots and a cover-up. Three officers at the scene were charged with conspiracy. Van Dyke was charged with murder. Yesterday he took the stand and gave tearful testimony.


JASON VAN DYKE: He waved the knife from his lower right side upwards across his body towards my left shoulder.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And when he did that, what did you do, officer?

VAN DYKE: I shot him.

HEFFERNAN: During cross-examination, prosecutors asked Van Dyke to point out where in that infamous dash cam video McDonald can be seen raising the knife.


VAN DYKE: The video doesn't show my perspective.

HEFFERNAN: The prosecution then asked him about an animation created by his own defense team with the goal of showing Van Dyke's perspective. Again, they asked him to point out where the video shows McDonald raising the knife.


VAN DYKE: It's not showing what I saw. It's showing the back of my head and above me.

HEFFERNAN: Van Dyke's defense team called a psychologist to the stand to testify about how being in a life-threatening situation can warp memory and perception. Other defense witnesses included people who had met Laquan McDonald while he was in juvenile detention. They recalled incidents where McDonald shouted threats and resisted staff. Sharone Mitchell is a former defense attorney. He suspects Van Dyke's lawyers are trying to distract jurors from what the video shows.

SHARONE MITCHELL: How you decide this case really rides along whether you're thinking much more about the Laquan McDonald's actions or whether you're thinking about Jason Van Dyke's actions. And the more the defense can draw you to Laquan McDonald is the least amount of time you're thinking about what Jason Van Dyke did.

HEFFERNAN: Defense also brought witnesses to testify about the effects of PCP, which McDonald had in his system. Prosecutors made the point that Laquan McDonald is not on trial and throughout this trial have again and again showed jurors the video. The defense team rested its case today, and each side is expected to make closing arguments tomorrow before the case goes to the jury. For NPR News, I'm Shannon Heffernan.

CHANG: Heffernan works with a team at WBEZ to produce a podcast on this trial called 16 Shots. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Heffernan