CHICAGO (CBS) — Officer Jason Van Dyke returns to court today for a final pretrial hearing, before jury selection begins tomorrow on first-degree murder charges in the death of Laquan McDonald.
Tuesday’s hearing comes one week after Van Dyke granted the Chicago Tribune an interview, his first public comments about the shooting that has him facing six counts of first-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery, and one count of official misconduct.
Prosecutors Judge Vincent Gaughan to revoke or increase Van Dyke’s bail, saying his comments in the interview violated a “decorum order” barring anyone involved in the case from talking publicly. Prosecutors also asked the judge to rule Van Dyke in contempt of court.
“The defendant, of course, can defend himself in a murder case, and there’s a place to do it, and it’s in this courtroom, in front of you, with rules of evidence in play, and he has that right, but he does not have a right to try the case in the press,” special prosecutor Joe Cullen said.
Defense attorneys said Van Dyke was not trying to influence potential jurors, but was exercising his First Amendment right when he spoke out about the case.
“We did not anticipate that decorum order by your honor was somehow exhausting and eliminating any First Amendment rights, because certainly that would be illegal for the court to talk about that. So we did not presume that your honor’s gag order was that extensive,” defense attorney Dan Herbert said.
Gaughan held off on ruling on the request to revoke Van Dyke’s $1.5 million bond until a hearing on Thursday. He also said a hearing on the contempt charge would not be held until after the murder trial.
Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer in decades to be charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty shooting. He shot McDonald 16 times on the night of Oct. 20, 2014, as police were responding to reports the teen was slashing tires near 41st and Pulaski.
McDonald was armed with a knife and allegedly had slashed the tire of a police car before Van Dyke arrived on the scene. In a report he filed after the shooting, According to the official police report of the shooting, McDonald attacked Van Dyke, and swung the knife in an “aggressive manner.”
However, dashboard camera video released the day Van Dyke was charged with murder contradicts the police account, and shows McDonald walking away from Van Dyke when he was shot.
Van Dyke’s attorneys have sought a change of venue for the trial, arguing he can’t get a fair trial from a Cook County jury due to the pretrial publicity. Gaughan has said he won’t rule on that request until after jury selection has begun.
The officer’s defense team still has the option of choosing a bench trial instead.