Chicago cop testifies video of Laquan McDonald death "doesn't show my perspective"
CHICAGO -- Testimony in the murder trial of a Chicago police officer in the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald concluded Wednesday morning, a quiet ending to a trial just a day after the officer himself provided sometimes emotional and sometimes defiant testimony that what he saw did not unfold the way it did on dashcam video.
Defense attorneys did not call any witnesses on Wednesday, but rolled out and put into evidence the squad car tire that McDonald stabbed with a knife before Officer Jason Van Dyke arrived and shot him 16 times.
Prosecutors called one rebuttal witness who testified briefly and read into the record what Van Dyke told Chicago police Detective David March shortly after the shooting - including a statement that Van Dyke made that McDonald had raised a knife at him and kept pointing at him even after he was shot and fell to the ground. Van Dyke gave similar testimony on Wednesday - contradicting the video that shows no such actions by the teen.
The attorneys are scheduled to give their closing arguments to the jury when they return to court Thursday morning.
The video shows Van Dyke exit his vehicle and start firing even as McDonald appears to veer away from police. After the bullets start, McDonald spins and falls to the ground. Van Dyke continues firing, shooting a total of 16 shots. About 10 other officers were on the scene , and prosecutors have stressed that none of them - including Van Dyke's partner - opened fire.
In testimony Wednesday, Van Dyke said he yelled "drop the knife" but McDonald "never stopped" advancing and didn't drop the knife.
"His face had no expression, his eyes were just bugging out of his head. He had these huge white eyes, just staring right through me," Van Dyke said.
Appearing to choke back tears, Van Dyke said McDonald got about 10 to 15 feet away from him. He said McDonald waved the knife, and that's when he shot him. An autopsy shows McDonald had the hallucinogenic drug PCP in his system.
"His back never once turned towards me," Van Dyke said. "He could have made a decision to turn and walk in the other direction; he could have dropped the knife and ended it right there."
But prosecutors picked apart his story, asking why Van Dyke didn't step out of McDonald's path and pointing out that the video shows Van Dyke actually stepping toward McDonald.
"I know that now, yeah," he said. "Not intentionally. I thought I was backpedaling."
When Van Dyke insisted that McDonald raised the knife across his chest just before the officer opened fire, prosecutor Judy Gleason asked: "Where do you see that on the video?"
"The video doesn't show my perspective," Van Dyke responded.
When she asked why Van Dyke resumed firing after McDonald lay motionless on the ground, he responded: "All I could see was him starting to push up with his left hand off the ground. I still see him holding his knife in his right hand, eyes still bugging out of his face, still showing no expression."
He also described being obsessed with the knife that was still in McDonald's hand until another officer eventually kicked it away.
"I shot at the knife. I wanted him to get rid of the knife. My focus was just on that knife. ... That's all I could think of," Van Dyke said.
Van Dyke took the stand after a psychologist testified that he believed that when Van Dyke fired his weapon it was a "reasonable response" to what he perceived as a deadly threat posed by McDonald.
Dr. Laurence Miller interviewed Van Dyke for the defense. He said the officer told him that before he got out of his squad car, he had told his partner they would have to shoot the black teenager and wondered why officers had not already done so.
Lawyers for clients who aren't police officers typically advise against testifying because it opens them up to potentially devastating cross-examination. But it's not obvious whether the right legal strategy for officers, like Van Dyke, is to stay off the witness stand. In several similar trials elsewhere in the U.S. in recent years, officers have testified. Some who did were acquitted or the juries couldn't reach a unanimous verdict.
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