Van Dyke trial special prosecutor discusses 'honor' of being selected, thanks jurors for reaching verdict

KANE COUNTY, Ill. (WLS) -- Joe McMahon's involvement with the trial of Jason Van Dyke started with a letter from Judge Vincent Gaughan, asking if he'd be willing to serve as a special prosecutor. The case, already receiving national attention, carried national implications and would be fraught with controversy, no matter how the verdict came down.

McMahon said yes. The case was decided Friday: Officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm - one for each shot fired at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014.

Back in his St. Charles office, McMahon reflected on being appointed the special prosecutor for the high-profile trial two years ago.

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Special prosecutor Joe McMahon's involvement with the high-profile Van Dyke trial began with a letter from Judge Vincent Gaughan asking him to serve. He said yes.

"It's an honor to be selected to prosecute an important case like this," he said. "I was nervous. I knew I and my team and this office would be judged."

For the past month, McMahon and his team of five other attorneys spent weekdays in Chicago and would return to Kane County on the weekends, still working on the case. He said he's grateful for his teammates and their diligence while sifting for hours through thousands of documents in preparation for the trial. McMahon also said he was grateful for the jurors' close attention during the trial and for the verdict that they arrived at Friday.

"They found that each and every gunshot was unnecessary. That was an important, kind of symbolic decision," he said.

His first call Friday was to McDonald's mother, Tina Hunter, who was only in the courtroom for a few days.

"Tina's had to relive this case almost daily in national coverage because of all the other issues this case has touched on, and that I think has made it exceptionally difficult for Tina," McMahon said. "She's aware of how the end of her son's life has played a part in the national conversation about race relations in America, about policing in America, and I think that has added to the difficulty."

While McMahon didn't dwell on race in his arguments during the trial, he thought it was more honest to bring it up as a white officer was on trial for shooting an African-American teen.

"The issue of race was involved in this case. It was not a central part of the facts of this case, but it was there," he said.

Understanding that many police officers may be upset with the verdict, McMahon said he believes scrutiny on their actions will make them even better at what they do. He appreciates the sacrifice officers make and prays for their safety.

The case still constantly weighs on McMahon's mind.

"Nobody wins on these cases," he said. "Mr. Van Dyke's family is suffering greatly. The Hunter family is suffering greatly."

Van Dyke is in custody and due back in court Oct. 31, though a date for his sentencing has not been set.
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