CHICAGO — Five jurors were sworn in Monday in the trial of Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer charged with murdering 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan interviewed 19 of roughly 200 potential jurors Monday at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, 2650 S. California Ave., as jury selection began in earnest. Jury prospects were asked last week to complete 27-page questionnaires that included more than 100 questions.
The five seated jurors include three women and two men.
In all, 12 jurors and four alternates are needed.
Among those chosen Monday was a Hispanic stay-at-home mother who has three kids under the age of 10. She said she respects police officers ("I think they just do their job") and thinks she can give Van Dyke a fair trial. She noticed a small group of protesters outside the courthouse Monday: "I did see it, but I didn't pay attention to the signs. I just kept walking."
The second juror was a white woman in her 30s or 40s whose significant other works for DCFS; McDonald was previously a ward of DCFS. She said she's familiar with the Van Dyke case, but wants "to see some evidence before coming to an opinion." She told the judge, "I have a belief about innocent until proven guilty."
An Asian man who works as a financial analyst was the third pick. He appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s and said on his survey "everyone must abide by the law, including law enforcement officers."
The fourth juror was a white gay man in his 60s who has an "equality" bumper sticker on his car. He said he doesn't know much about the case and has not seen the dashcam video.
The fifth and final juror seated Monday was a white woman who was familiar with the shooting and called it "excessive." She said she wanted to hear more facts before forming an opinion, though: "I had different thoughts. Why did Laquan keep walking away? Why did he not stop?" The woman's husband recently retired from the Navy after 24 years and works for the Department of Defense.
Jury selection is expected to continue Wednesday morning.
Van Dyke's defense team Monday made three peremptory strikes, or cut three jurors without having to give cause. Each team is allowed seven strikes during jury selection.
One was for a black woman from the West Side whose son was shot while she filled out her jury questionnaire. Her nephew was shot and killed in April. She works as a scheduler at Stroger Hospital and said she believes "there are three sides to every story."
Prosecutors used one strike to dismiss a white man who has a bumper sticker with a thin blue line on it. In his questionnaire, the man said he believed police officers should not be prosecuted for on-duty incidents.
At one point late in the day, defense attorney Dan Herbert told Gaughan he objected to how the judge was conducting voir dire, or the pre-trial interview process. Herbert accused Gaughan of "rehabilitating" biased jurors during questioning.
"These jurors clearly have expressed information [on their questionnaires] that would disqualify them from any jury. ... They can’t come in here with opinions, judge."
Herbert then seemed to suggest he'd opt for a bench trial if the process continued in the same manner: "If we’re going to continually allow people to be rehabilitated, then we’re … going to have a discussion on whether or not it’s even prudent to go forward on this then."
Among the potential jurors not chosen Monday was a black mechanic who said: "Unfortunately, I’m aware of this trial and I know the situation of this trial, and I’ve kind of made my decision on it already."
"What’s your position right now as you sit here today?" Gaughan asked.
"And that's based on?"
The man continued: "It's hard for me to grasp 16 shots. After seeing that video, it's hard for me to grasp and say: This is legitimate."
Also dismissed was a teacher with a master's degree from Northwestern University. She said she watched dashcam footage of the fatal shooting: "Once you've seen it, it's hard to deny McDonald was murdered."
When asked whether she could remain impartial, the woman said: "With any other case, I would say yes. With this one, I have to say no."
Van Dyke's defense team has long argued the trial should be moved outside of Cook County because it would be impossible to find impartial jurors in Chicago. Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder, official misconduct and aggravated battery in the Oct. 20, 2014, slaying of McDonald, who was shot 16 times. Dashcam video of the shooting, which was released 13 months later via court order, sparked massive protests.
Gaughan has declined to rule on a motion to move the trial, saying he wanted to interview potential Cook County jurors first.