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Trial over alleged police cover-up of Laquan McDonald's shooting closes with rhetorical fireworks

Megan Crepeau, Christy Gutowski and Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- Much of the evidence in the landmark conspiracy case of three Chicago cops was sterile and dry, relying on reams of fine-print paperwork and obscure internal police procedures.

But the trial closed Thursday with rhetorical fireworks as attorneys sparred fiercely over whether the defendants collaborated to thwart an investigation into then-Officer Jason Van Dyke's fatal 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald.

"Laquan McDonald was a human being," said special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes during nearly four hours of closing arguments. "He deserved due process in the law and not to have police officers write false reports and shape a false narrative. ... It's not honorable. It's a violation of the public trust. It's a violation of their oath of office."

Ex-Detective David March, former patrolman Joseph Walsh and Officer Thomas Gaffney are charged with conspiring to cover for Van Dyke. Prosecutors alleged the men filed false paperwork exaggerating the threat posed by McDonald to make the shooting appear justified.

Defense attorneys scoffed Thursday at those accusations, expressing indignation that prosecutors would paint the officers as criminals for doing their jobs.

After closing arguments ended shortly before 7 p.m., the three defendants walked out of Associate Judge Domenica Stephenson's courtroom with nearly two weeks to wait before learning her decision on the charges of official misconduct, obstructing justice and conspiracy. Stephenson said she would announce her highly anticipated verdict Dec. 19 after reviewing all the evidence.

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In a separate, historic trial earlier this year, a Cook County jury convicted Van Dyke of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery. He is awaiting sentencing in jail.

Thursday's arguments were undoubtedly familiar to Stephenson, who heard the lawyers hit near-identical notes twice already in the previous four days of trial.

March's attorney, James McKay, once again blasted the case as weak, saying in a voice that rose to a shout that prosecutors had "failed miserably" to show that any of the officers had done anything wrong.

As the case's lead detective, March determined that the shooting was justified, but that doesn't mean he committed a crime, McKay argued. The finding was simply one man's opinion, the attorney said.

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