Van Dyke's Defense Questioning Autopsy On Teenager

Lisa Fielding
September 24, 2018 - 1:19 pm

Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP


CHICAGO (AP) — Lawyers for a Chicago police officer charged with murder in the shooting of Laquan McDonald opened their defense case Monday with a witness questioning the thoroughness and accuracy of the autopsy.

Forensic pathologist Shaku Teas testified that at least 12 of the 16 shots fired by Officer Jason Van Dyke on Oct. 20, 2014, hit McDonald before he was on the ground. But prosecutors have cited police video to argue that Van Dyke fired many of the shots after McDonald was on the ground. They say the 17-year-old collapsed on the street 1.6 seconds after the first bullet hit him and was on the ground for more than 12 seconds as the shooting continued.

Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, Cook County's chief medical examiner, testified last week that it was impossible to determine the exact order of the wounds. But Teas testified that a shot to McDonald's neck was the first or second shot and was fired when he was still standing.

She said she believes the fourth shot hit McDonald's right chest and "caused him to die rapidly." She said the wound was consistent with McDonald being turned toward the officer when he was shot.

Dashcam video shows Van Dyke opened fire as McDonald walked away from police with a small knife in his hand. Van Dyke's attorneys have argued that he was afraid for his life and acted according to his training. Prosecutors have stressed that no other officers who encountered McDonald opened fire. Prosecutors rested their case Thursday.

Later Monday, Van Dyke's attorneys turned to another key component of their strategy: McDonald himself. They called witnesses to testify about the teen's history of violent behavior. Miguel DeJsuus, who works at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, tols jurors of an incident in which McDonald told him he was on drugs before striking him. Joseph Plaud of the Cook County's Sheriff's Department testified about seeing McDonald "yelling, screaming, swearing" while he was in the juvenile court lock-up a little more than a year before the shooting.

But both witnesses along with another man who worked in the lockup acknowledged that they never spoke to Van Dyke about McDonald before the shooting — admissions designed to tell the jury that Van Dyke knew nothing about the teen's past when he shot him.

A big question remaining for the trial is whether Van Dyke will testify. He isn't obligated to testify, but he has the right to take the stand to give his version of what happened.

Another question is which — if any — other officers at the scene the defense will call to testify. Prosecutors called several last week, but others, including two charged with trying to cover up what happened to protect Van Dyke, have not testified.

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