Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty Friday of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in connection with the shooting of Laquan McDonald in October 2014.
Van Dyke, who pleaded not guilty to all charges, shot the 17-year-old McDonald 16 times in less than 30 seconds after spotting him walking down the street with a knife.
The episode was captured on video and led to massive demonstrations in inner-city Chicago when it was released to the public following a lengthy delay. A Department of Justice investigation followed examining whether officials improperly concealed the video for months after the shooting to protect Van Dyke.
In closing arguments, prosecutors argued that Van Dyke was unconcerned about taking McDonald’s life and failed to take reasonable steps to avoid doing so.
“You heard what it was that he said: ‘I guess we’ll have to shoot him,’” Assistant Special Prosecutor Jody Gleason told the jury, referencing a conversation Van Dyke had with his partner before arriving at the scene where McDonald was killed. “It wasn’t the knife in Laquan’s hand that made the defendant kill him that night. It was his indifference to the value of Laquan’s life.”
In his closing remarks, Van Dyke’s defense attorney cast the incident as a mostly faultless tragedy that could have been avoided if McDonald had shown more restraint.
“It’s a tragedy that could have been prevented with one simple step,” he said. “At any step during that 20-minute rampage, if Laquan McDonald had dropped that knife, he would have been here today.”
In describing the event before the jury on Tuesday, Van Dyke cast McDonald as a genuinely frightening aggressor.
“His eyes were just bugging out of his head,” Van Dyke said of the teenager. “He waved the knife from his lower right side, upwards, across his body, towards my left shoulder.”