Jason Van Dyke — the Chicago police officer charged with murder in the shooting of Laquan McDonald — announced this morning that he would proceed with a jury trial, reports the Chicago Tribune.
While the choice was allowed to be made as late as the swearing in of the 12th juror, which happened today, it is very rare for this decision to be left so late. Van Dyke and his lawyers had mulled over the decision for several weeks, facing a deadline of Friday morning to decide, finally settling on a jury trial.
The defense had originally requested to move the trial away from Chicago, which Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan had declined to rule on until all 12 jurors and five alternates were selected. That led the defense to take the decision on whether to have a jury trial as late as possible, and by going with a jury trial it now seems that the case will continue in the city.
With race bound to be a significant factor in the trial, as Van Dyke is white while McDonald was black, much attention has focused on the ethnic composition of the jury. Of the 12 jurors, just one of them is black. There are a total of five members of the jury of non-Caucasian descent, with three Hispanic and one Asian juror being joined by seven white jurors.
Judge Gaughan had intentionally delayed in swearing in the 12th juror to give the defense more time to make its decision, but with the trial slated to begin on Monday morning, he could not stall any longer when the proceedings resumed on Friday. That led Gaughan to call on the defense to make its decision — which Van Dyke’s attorneys announced — leading to the last juror being sworn in.
Van Dyke stands accused of six counts of first-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery, and one account of official misconduct for the shooting.
Initial claims by Van Dyke, and of the Chicago Police Department, were that McDonald had threatened the officer with a knife. That claim has since been thrown into doubt by the dashboard camera footage a court ordered released in 2015. Said footage appears to show Van Dyke shooting McDonald, who was holding a knife but walking away from him, seconds after leaving his car.
Van Dyke’s decision goes against what has been the norm in these sorts of trials, with police officers typically electing for a bench trial in an effort to remove emotion from the proceedings and instead focus on the letter of the law, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. With the defense having opted for a trial by jury, the process has fundamentally changed, and will no doubt lead to more public proceedings when opening arguments get underway on Monday.