Laquan McDonald Cover-up Case Gets Yet Another Judge

By Sameer Rao Jul 19, 2017

After one judge recused herself and another was removed at the request of the special prosecutor, Cook County associate judge Domenica Stephenson will manage the trial of three former Chicago Police Department (CPD) officers charged with allegedly covering up Laquan McDonald‘s 2014 shooting death by ex-colleague Jason Van Dyke.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported yesterday (July 18) that Stephenson replaced county circuit court judge Diane Gordon Cannon to administer the trial against former detective David March and former officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney. A Cook County grand jury charged each man with felony conspiracy, misconduct and obstruction of justice charges last month. ABC 7 reported at the time that the indictment accuses the officers of collaborating with Van Dyke, who is White, to mask the truth of his fatal encounter with the Black teen. McDonald’s videotaped killing and the subsequent cover-up allegations provoked major protests that led to former police superintendent Garry McCarthy’s resignation and Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez’s electoral defeat. Van Dyke still faces six murder, one misconduct and 16 aggravated battery charges—one for each of the 16 bullets he shot into McDonald’s body.

Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes filed a motion, published by DNAInfo, to replace Cannon last week. The motion notes that any prosecutor or defense attorney who requests a judge’s replacement—an option also available to attorneys representing each of the three defendants—must prove that the judge is biased against their argument. Holmes declined to tell media outlets why she filed the motion, which also doesn’t specify her justification.

DNAInfo reports that Cannon previously acquitted CPD commander Glenn Evans on charges that he allegedly shoved his gun into the mouth of 22-year-old Ricky Williams and threatened to kill him in 2013—an accusation supported by a state police forensic scientist’s finding that Williams’ DNA was on the barrel of the gun. 

Cannon replaced the trial’s first judge, county circuit judge Mary Margaret Brosnahan, who recused herself, per the Chicago Tribune. Brosnahan did not explain her decision, but the Tribune cites unpublished police records revealing that Kriston Kato, her husband and a former CPD detective, visited the scene of McDonald’s killing as a Fraternal Order of Police union representative and spoke with involved officers.

Per the Sun-Times, Judge Stephenson made headlines earlier this year for two cases: one where she dismissed convictions against four men incarcerated for a 1995 double murder, and another where she sentenced a cab driver to 22 years behind bars for sexually assaulting a woman during an attempted robbery. Stephenson told the Sun-Times that the next court hearing for the case is set for August 29.