CHICAGO — The jurors who convicted Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke of murder knew the case was a significant one.
That’s what they revealed during interviews with reporters broadcast on live TV after revealing their verdict Friday afternoon. The group, after about seven hours of deliberations over two days, convicted the white police officer of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old who Van Dyke shot 16 times in 2014.
A group of jurors, and at least one alternate, criticized Van Dyke’s testimony, talked about how they’d gotten along and reflected on how they didn’t think McDonald’s past mattered when he came into contact with Van Dyke.
Here’s what went on in the jury room:
How They Decided
Jurors said they started deliberations with a straw poll. The poll revealed seven jurors thought Van Dyke was guilty of murder, two thought he was not guilty and three were undecided.
They began discussions from there, and one juror said the group got along and listened to each other.
The jury eventually decided Van Dyke was guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery but not official misconduct.
Why They Convicted
The jury watched a video of Van Dyke killing McDonald multiple times during deliberations, a juror said. They said they thought the shooting could have been avoided had Van Dyke retreated instead of stepping toward the teenager.
Multiple jurors also criticized Van Dyke’s testimony, saying his answers seemed “rehearsed,” and jurors said the defense team’s depiction of McDonald as having a violent past did not matter.
“… Even though you’re not an innocent person, you don’t deserve to die,” one woman said. “You don’t deserve something like that.”
And it was a “changing point” for many jurors when they heard that Van Dyke had told his partner they’d have to shoot McDonald before getting to the scene, one juror said. She said many of them noted that when it came up during the trial. Lead prosecutor Joseph McMahon later said that evidence came to light as part of pre-trial discovery provided by Van Dyke’s defense team.
Van Dyke was also facing 16 counts of aggravated battery because he’d shot McDonald 16 times, and jurors discussed if two of those shots might have been justified but ultimately decided none of the shots were reasonable. They convicted Van Dyke of all 16 counts of aggravated battery. Those counts could potentially keep Van Dyke in prison longer than the second-degree murder conviction.
The group did decide to acquit Van Dyke of official misconduct, with one juror saying they thought that was “consistent” with their decision that he was guilty of second-degree murder.
Van Dyke’s Testimony
The jurors sharply criticized Van Dyke’s testimony when he took the stand. Multiple jurors said the officer’s answers seemed “rehearsed.”
“I felt like he took a pause to tear up or cry,” one juror said. “… I did think that it was rehearsed.”
Van Dyke had too many moments where he couldn’t remember things, one juror said.
Van Dyke “seemed scared on the stand, like he realized he was taking his future into his own hands,” one juror said. “… His fumbling around, trying to remember things exactly how they were, his memories and the facts and all their evidence didn’t line up.”
It seemed like Van Dyke was trying to win the jury’s sympathy, one woman said, but, “We just didn’t buy it.”
The Case’s Impact
One juror said she’d been aware of the case since 2014 and knew it would be significant, but another said she had “no idea” the case would be so high-profile and that jurors would end up having a police escort and being sequestered like they were.
Multiple jurors said they’d take public transportation and marvel at the people around them, questioning why they had been selected for the trial and not other Chicagoans.
One juror said she struggled to sleep for three weeks and thought of the case’s impact constantly, but she also thought of how two families would be affected.
“Every day we walked in and looked at two families,” the juror said. “We saw Jason Van Dyke’s family and we saw Laquan McDonald’s family.”
Multiple jurors — including one alternate who said she’d originally thought of throwing her summons away — said it’d been a “privilege” to serve at the trial. They knew the verdict might have far-reaching impact but focused only on the case and whether “whether or not justice would be done here,” one juror said.
“We didn’t come here because of race,” said the lone black woman on the jury. “We came here for right or wrong.”