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Officer In Laquan McDonald Case Wants To Skip Some Court Appearances

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke has asked a Cook County judge to excuse him from attending status hearings in his murder case, due to threats he has received over the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Until Wednesday's hearing, Van Dyke had needed to run a gantlet of angry protesters every time he has appeared at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse ever since he was charged with first-degree murder in McDonald's death.

Defense attorney Daniel Herbert said Van Dyke's life has been threatened, his father has been "physically battered," and a family vehicle has been "smashed" at previous court appearances, and the officer should be excused from attending status hearings in the case to protect his safety.

"Anybody who's been following this case knows the intense scrutiny and threats that he has received each time he enters this building and leaves this building. So we are asking for an accommodation for that," Herbert said. "He has been threatened every single time he's walked in and out of the building, told he was going to be killed, indicating that they hoped he was raped and killed in prison, and that's something that he has to deal with, and we're hoping that we can minimize that, and we can try to give him as much of a normal process that every other defendant receives that he is simply not receiving in this case."

Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan gave prosecutors until April 13 to respond to Van Dyke's request, and set the next court date for May 5, when he could either schedule a hearing for Herbert to present evidence, or hear arguments from both sides.

Herbert said he's surprised at the continued intensity of the public outcry against Van Dyke four months after he was charged.

"We're still amazed at the appetite and the venom towards my client in this case. It's truly amazing. He remains public enemy number one, and the outcry is still strong against him," he said. "The violence towards my client is really affecting him."

Meantime, Gaughan has given prosecutors six weeks to respond to a pair of petitions asking for a special prosecutor to handle the case. Two petitions have been filed seeking to replace Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez in the case, citing her close ties to the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents Chicago police officers. One petition was filed by a group of civil rights attorneys and activists, the other was filed by Rev. Jesse Jackson.

"The conflict is based on the FOP's close connection with Anita Alvarez, as well as her propensity and record of not pursuing vigorously – or at all – police misconduct, police shootings, police coverup cases in her history as the State's Attorney of Cook County," civil rights attorney G. Flint Taylor said after the hearing.

Gaughan gave prosecutors until May 5 to respond to the petitions. Taylor asked for a shorter deadline, noting the petitions were filed last month, but Gaughan said he would not rush to a decision, especially since he has a number of other murder cases on his docket.

"I know that there's an urgency, but I'm not just going to bend over backwards and put everybody on the back burner. This is going to proceed according to the schedule I have, alright? And because I want to make sure that each party has adequate time, and I'm not going to rush this or anything else like this, because this has to be done thoroughly and professionally," Gaughan said.

Critics have said they don't trust Alvarez's office to properly handle the case, after she took more than a year to charge Van Dyke, who shot McDonald 16 times in October 2014.

Alvarez did not charge Van Dyke with murder until 400 days after the shooting, just hours before city officials released police dashboard camera video of the shooting, on orders from a Cook County judge. The city had been fighting the video's release for months.

The release of the video of the shooting prompted weeks of angry protests across Chicago, and led to a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the Chicago Police Department's use of force. Protesters repeatedly have called for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alvarez to resign.

Taylor said Alvarez's loss in last week's Democratic primary election doesn't eliminate the need to bring in a special prosecutor for the McDonald case, given that her eventual successor won't be elected until November, and won't be sworn in until December.

"There's a lot of water to come under the bridge from now until December, and we think that it's appropriate for her not to be the one in charge of the proceedings, the investigation, the prosecution during that nine-month period," Taylor said.

Neither Alvarez's office nor the Fraternal Order of Police immediately responded to requests for comment about the petitions for a special prosecutor.

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