Judge to appoint special prosecutor in Chicago cop's murder trial

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 02, 2016 12:57 PM

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A judge will appoint a special prosecutor in the trial of a white Chicago police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of a black teenager, a spokeswoman for the officer's lawyer said on Thursday.

Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan said during a hearing that he will appoint a special prosecutor in officer Jason Van Dyke's first-degree murder trial for the 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, Anne Kavanagh, media coordinator for Van Dyke's attorney, Dan Herbert, said in an email.

Herbert said in a statement that the judge's decision to appoint a special prosecutor was expected and does not change how he will defend Van Dyke, 38.

"From the beginning, we have said this was a tragedy not a first-degree murder," Herbert said in the statement. "We believed Jason Van Dyke was overcharged for political reasons. We are hoping the new prosecutor will recognize that it was overcharged as well." 

Gaughan's decision comes about a month after Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez removed herself from the case and asked the judge to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the politically sensitive case. Alvarez lost her re-election bid earlier this year after protests over her taking a year to charge Van Dyke.

The shooting came at a time of heightened national debate over police use of deadly force, especially against black men.

The shooting of McDonald was caught on patrol car dashboard camera videos that were released a year after he was killed. The incident sparked demonstrations and led to the firing of the police chief, an ongoing federal investigation of the police department and calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign.

Chicago police typically shoot about 50 people a year, in both fatal and non-fatal incidents. More than 74 percent of those shot by Chicago police between 2008 and 2015 were black, while the city's population is about one-third black.

Police shootings have fallen. In the first three months of this year, there were four police shooting incidents, the lowest number for any quarter since at least 2007.

Chicago recorded its deadliest month in 21 years with 66 slain in May, according to the Chicago Tribune, citing police records. Homicides last month were the highest since 1995 when 75 people were killed, the newspaper reported.

(Reporting by Justin Madden; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler)