In a decision with potentially far-reaching consequences, attorneys for Jason Van Dyke announced Friday morning they will let 12 jurors selected this week decide the Chicago police officer’s guilt or innocence in Laquan McDonald’s shooting, the Chicago Tribune reports. It was rare for such a critical choice — a bench or jury trial — to be decided so late in such high-profile proceedings. Opening statements are slated for Monday. A legal chess game had played out in court for months. Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan had delayed ruling on a defense request to move the trial from Chicago until after jury selection. The defense postponed its decision on whether to have a jury decide the case at all. On Friday morning, Gaughan held off ruling on whether to move the trial out of Cook County, saying he would do so after he swore in the 12th juror and five alternates when they return to the courthouse on Monday.
Van Dyke’s decision to go with a jury trial could alter the fundamental dynamic of the trial. Chicago police officers charged with criminal wrongdoing traditionally opt for bench trials, so their cases are heard by judges who should more easily strip the emotion from the case and focus on the complicated legal questions at hand. Jury selection was completed Thursday afternoon more quickly than many anticipated. The 12 jurors picked for the racially charged case — Van Dyke is white and McDonald was black — included just one African-Amercan. The remainder of the jury is composed of seven whites, three Hispanics and one Asian-American. Van Dyke, 40, a veteran of nearly 13 years as an officer at the time of the shooting, faces six counts of first-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery and one count of official misconduct for the October 2014 shooting.