Статья из Трибуны
To Laquan McDonald’s family, Joseph McMahon is a hero: the prosecutor who defied the odds and won a murder conviction against the Chicago police officer who killed their 17-year-old relative nearly four years ago.
But back when McMahon was appointed to handle the case, they weren’t so sure.
The Kane County state’s attorney was white, soft-spoken and suburban — hardly the crusader they envisioned to take the lead in a landmark case fraught with racial tension and social significance.
"I was kind of nervous about him coming in because he had came from Kane County. And black people haven't had a fair shake in Kane County all the time,” said McDonald’s great-uncle the Rev. Marvin Hunter. “Joseph McMahon has done a yeoman's job."
McMahon, 52, has been a target of criticism since he was sworn in as special prosecutor in the Jason Van Dyke case in August 2016. Activists accused him of being too mainstream — too Republican — to aggressively prosecute a cop. And Chicago-based lawyers scoffed, suggesting he was too restrained for the brass-knuckles world of the Leighton Criminal Court Building.
That scrutiny only intensified during the monthlong trial as legal experts and armchair attorneys second-guessed every decision made by his team. They questioned the witnesses called, the arguments made and even whether McMahon’s workmanlike courtroom demeanor would bore a Cook County jury. On the eve of opening statements, the Kane County board chairman accused him of shirking his elected duties.
And then, with the whole country watching, McMahon won the first murder conviction of a Chicago police officer in half a century.
“I have to try the case in my style,” McMahon said Saturday in his Kane County office. “I can’t pretend to be someone else. I was never going to be the loudest guy in the courtroom. Might doesn’t make it right.”
In a nearly three-hour interview with the Tribune and WBEZ-FM 91.5, McMahon provided his first in-depth take on the historic trial: his team’s strategy, the logistical challenges of prosecuting a case from 45 miles away, and the intense public pressure he felt and tried to brush off.
“I can’t ignore (the significance of the case) and I didn’t ignore it,” he said. “But if we allowed those other issues to kind of creep into the case, it would dilute what Jason Van Dyke did that night.”
Van Dyke, 40, was the first Chicago police officer in decades to be charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality. A Cook County jury convicted him Friday of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each bullet that riddled McDonald’s body.
Toward the end of deliberations, the jury sent a question to the judge that suggested they had reached a guilty verdict on at least the aggravated battery counts. McMahon almost certainly had his conviction, but he didn’t know if it would be big enough.
Aggravated battery carries a tougher sentence than second-degree murder in Illinois, but the average person probably wouldn’t realize that. Indeed, community activists promised citywide protests if Van Dyke wasn’t convicted of a crime that included the word “murder.”
In the months leading up to the trial, McMahon met with Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, and he was aware that some people feared losing control of the city if Van Dyke was acquitted.
“It weighed on me,” McMahon said. “It’s not as simple as I’m going to describe it, but I can’t worry about what happens outside of the courtroom. I can’t let it distract me from the case.”
In the end, McMahon concedes he wasn’t completely able to ignore the citywide anxiety surrounding the case.
“That just kind of added to the pressure,” he said. “There’s no other way to describe it. I felt personal pressure, professional pressure, as well. A not guilty? Would that be a reflection on me? Would that be a reflection on my abilities or my leadership?”
McMahon is a former partner in an elite law firm who has been Kane County’s top prosecutor for eight years. But he had not handled a case as high-profile as the Van Dyke trial — to be fair, few people ever have.
Then-Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder in November 2015 and then withdrew from the case after months of protests and political upheaval. Her recusal prompted Judge Vincent Gaughan, who presided over the case, to send a letter to dozens of state’s attorneys around Illinois asking them to consider taking on the prosecution.
The letter sat on McMahon’s desk for three days before he looked at it seriously.
Other suburban prosecutors turned down the request, a politically prudent move given the case would pit them against a police officer and possibly prove unpopular among their constituents.
McMahon, however, believed he had a responsibility to the state’s legal system and began asking people for their thoughts about taking on the job. Against the advice of nearly everyone he consulted, McMahon raised his hand.
Activists had long called for Alvarez’s recusal, but when Gaughan chose McMahon to take the spot, those same activists questioned whether he was the person for the job. McMahon was an unknown quantity without an investment in Chicago’s communities, they said, and as a county prosecutor, he had too many close ties to police.
“Given the high number of qualified attorneys in Cook County who have the experience, resources and who are fully independent from law enforcement, we’re surprised and disappointed that all of them have been passed over,” the attorneys representing the activists noted in a statement at the time.
On the day McMahon was officially appointed, he answered questions from reporters who wondered why he would take a case in which the odds were so clearly stacked against him. A Chicago police officer hadn’t been convicted of murder for an on-duty incident in more than 50 years, and nationally only about one-third of non-federal law enforcement officers who have faced murder or manslaughter allegations for on-duty shootings since 2005 have been found guilty.
McMahon called it an “intimidating” and “stressful” day. He found refuge in the courtroom and preparing for trial.
“As I got closer to trial, that kind of flipped,” he said. “Pressure was building to put this case on.”
And while trying to prosecute one of the biggest cases in recent city history, McMahon faced sharp criticism back home from Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen. On the eve of both opening statements and closing arguments, Lauzen accused McMahon of ignoring his office and wasting taxpayers’ money on a Cook County case.
Several county board members have spoken in McMahon’s defense, but the prosecutor doubts Lauzen will relent on his attacks in light of the historic verdict.
“I think the criticism from him will continue,” McMahon said. “But whether he’s critical or complimentary is of no concern to me.”
McMahon did not know much in advance that Van Dyke would hit the stand. But just in case, prosecutors put their heads together in a hotel room the weekend before the defense was slated to rest their case to prepare for every possibility they could think of if Van Dyke testified. They didn’t know if he would come off as contrite or defiant, emotional or analytical. Ultimately, he grew tearful on the stand — and then somewhat prickly on cross-examination.
Jurors later told reporters they found his demeanor unconvincing and his statements inconsistent.
“Certainly, he was able to elicit some sympathy, but there were also really major gaps in his testimony that were obvious,” McMahon said.
During the four-week trial, Cook County paid for prosecutors to stay Sunday through Thursday at a hotel near Midway Airport, so they wouldn’t have to make the wearying morning commute from the far west suburbs each day. The team ate dinner together almost every evening and then often gathered in one of their rooms to hold strategy sessions.
The prosecutors returned home after court on Fridays and reassembled at the Kane County state’s attorney’s office each Saturday after running neglected personal errands such as dropping off their dry cleaning for the week. It was a grueling schedule that left McMahon — who has competed in two Ironman triathlons in recent years — and the others exhausted.
And it was tough to sleep the night before closing arguments, McMahon said, given the pressure to finish strong. Once the jury had the case, the prosecutors retired to their borrowed rooms in the Cook County prosecutors’ offices and waited. McMahon answered some “really simple” emails. He read a memoir by former Secretary of State James Baker: “Work Hard, Study … and Keep Out of Politics!” He tried to relax with his colleagues.
“We would talk for awhile. We would laugh,” he said. “One or two of us, I think, took a nap. That was not me.”
McMahon didn’t sleep much Thursday night before the verdict either.
When the jury came back naming Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder — rather than first-degree, as charged — “I immediately felt like they got it right,” he said.
Prosecutors held no celebratory drink or post-verdict party. Exhausted by the trial and two consecutive sleepless nights, McMahon returned home and spent time with his son, who had come back from college to watch closing arguments.
As McMahon began to discuss how much it meant to have his son in the courtroom for the biggest moment of his professional career, the typically stone-faced prosecutor’s eyes welled with tears. He pushed himself away from the microphone used to record the interview, so his raw emotions wouldn’t be captured as he tried to compose himself.
“It was great having him there,” he said finally.
After the verdict was returned, McMahon spoke to McDonald’s mother, Tina Hunter. She had been an occasional presence in court during the trial, but she was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read. He would not discuss the details of their conversation.
Winning Hunter’s respect was an uphill battle, McMahon said.
“I think Tina, like a lot of people, didn’t trust me,” said McMahon, calling himself a “white guy coming in from the suburbs.”
But eventually, their relationship developed to the point where Hunter would call the Kane County office and refuse to speak with anyone but McMahon.
McMahon has met with family members of every murder victim his office has prosecuted since taking the job, he said. A guilty verdict, he said, does not actually provide closure.
“That’s a wound that never really heals,” he said.
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