You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Jason Van Dyke sentenced to 6 3/4 years in prison for killing of Laquan McDonald

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 1/18/2019
UP NEXT
UP NEXT

Video by CBS News

UPDATE: Former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke was sentenced to 6 ¾ years in prison Friday for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, closing one of the most racially fraught and socially significant chapters in recent Chicago history.

After a daylong hearing, Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke only on the second-degree murder conviction, finding that it was the more serious crime and the 16 aggravated battery convictions should "merge" into it for sentencing purposes.

That decision means Van Dyke will serve only half of the sentence -- less than 3 1/2 years in prison.

The highly anticipated sentencing came with added tension one day after Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson acquitted three Chicago police officers of all charges alleging they conspired to shield Van Dyke from scrutiny in McDonald’s killing.

EARLIER STORY: Former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke is scheduled to be sentenced Friday for the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, closing one of the most racially fraught and socially significant chapters in recent Chicago history.

The highly anticipated sentencing comes with added tension one day after Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson acquitted three Chicago police officers of all charges alleging they conspired to shield Van Dyke from scrutiny in McDonald’s killing.

11:23 a.m.: First prosecution witness says Van Dyke screamed obscenities and racial slurs at him with gun to his temple As their first witness, prosecutors called Vidale Joy, who said he had a run-in with police in August 2005 when Jason Van Dyke put a gun to his temple and screamed obscenities and racial slurs at him.

Joy, who said he is an author and poet, was pulled over after leaving a gas station at Cermak Road and Ogden Avenue on Chicago’s West Side, he said. Joy said he put his hands on the steering wheel and saw Van Dyke approaching his car with his gun drawn.

“He was, um, shouting obscenities, racist slurs or what have you,” Joy said.

a group of people posing for the camera: Former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke and his attorney Daniel Herbert attend a post conviction hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building Friday, Dec. 14, 2018 in Chicago. © Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS Former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke and his attorney Daniel Herbert attend a post conviction hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building Friday, Dec. 14, 2018 in Chicago. On cross-examination, he said Van Dyke called him a “black-ass n-----“

“I was quite nervous because he had his gun drawn on me,” Joy said. “He put the gun to my temple. It was as if he was just infuriated, just out of his mind, in my opinion.”

Joy said he complied with Van Dyke’s commands to get out of the car. Van Dyke refused to tell him why he was pulled over and ignored his requests to call his lawyer, Joy testified.

“He never answered. He kept just verbally abusing me,” Joy said. “He never answered any of my questions, and he never gave me any reasons for detaining me.”

Joy said he was detained for 20 minutes or more but was never charged. He later filed a complaint with the police Office of Professional Standards.

Joy said the incident continues to affect him to this day.

“Honestly speaking, um, I do suffer from depression,” he said. “I have anxiety to a degree where every time an officer gets behind me I get nervous so that I shut down. I become momentarily catatonic.”

10:57 a.m.: Defense wants Van Dyke sentenced only for second-degree murder, not the more serious aggravated battery convictions Darren O’Brien, one of Van Dyke's lawyers, argued the former officer must be sentenced only on the second-degree murder conviction, a less serious charge than the aggravated battery counts under Illinois law.

O’Brien said the case law is clear that the aggravated battery counts merge into the murder charge.

Interestingly, to support his argument, he adopted the prosecution’s position at trial that each of the 16 bullet wounds caused McDonald’s death.

If Judge Gaughan disagrees, O’Brien argued Van Dyke should be sentenced on only one of the 16 counts of aggravated battery for which he was convicted.

“Death is the injury in this case, not the individual aggravated batteries,” he said.

O'Brien also noted the wide sentencing range facing Van Dyke.

“It would be extremely unfair to punish Mr. Van Dyke for shooting and wounding somebody, and having those same wounds be the cause of death, and punishing him for the death, too,” he said.

O’Brien also argued that the jury, in its verdict, found that the prosecution had proven the elements of first-degree murder. To sentence Van Dyke for aggravated battery would diminish their work, he said.

“If you do that, their deliberations are out the window,” he said.

While O’Brien didn’t discuss a possible specific sentence for Van Dyke, the defense filed paperwork earlier this week seeking probation.

10:45 a.m.: Prosecutors lay out path for judge to sentence Van Dyke to up to 18 years in prison After a closed-door session that lasted about half an hour, attorneys argued legal issues involving over what punishment should be imposed.

Prosecutors want him sentenced on his 16 counts of conviction for aggravated battery, a Class X offense that carries a stiffer penalty than second-degree murder. The defense wants Van Dyke punished only for the second-degree murder count, leaving open the possibility of a sentence of probation.

Special prosecutor Joseph McMahon acknowledged the concept may be confusing to the general public -- that murder would be considered less serious that aggravated battery under sentencing laws.

“When you hear the term second-degree murder, it sounds like a more serious offense,” McMahon said. “But when you look at…Illinois state law, aggravated battery is the more serious offense."

Under the state’s labyrinthine sentencing guidelines, some experts believe Van Dyke could be eligible for a minimum 96 years in prison at his sentencing. A jury convicted him last fall of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery — one count for each bullet that riddled 17-year-old McDonald’s body after refusing police orders to drop a knife.

McMahon, however, made clear that he does not believe Van Dyke should be given a sentence of nearly a century in prison for the aggravated battery charges.

“That’s more than two times the minimum sentence for first-degree murder,” declared McMahon, saying that would raise constitutional issues.

McMahon outlined a way for Van Dyke to instead be sentenced to 18 years in prison, but he did not make a specific recommendation as to how many years the ex-officer should be incarcerated.

Prosecutors believe a grand jury correctly indicted Van Dyke on 16 separates count of aggravated battery and that each count of conviction must be served separately, one after the other.

“There were 16 separate gunshots wound, each one causing harm to Laquan McDonald,” McMahon said. “He continued to assess and shoot that gun throughout the entire process.”

But McMahon told Judge Vincent Gaughan that the ex-patrolman does not necessarily have to serve all 16 counts consecutively. Instead, prosecutors contend the judge can determine which shots caused “severe bodily injury” and order Van Dyke to serve only those counts consecutively.

At trial, the defense repeatedly argued that only two bullets — one to McDonald’s chest and another to his neck — were fatal. If the judge agreed with that position, prosecutors argue Van Dyke would face a maximum 18 years in prison — six for the neck wound, six for the chest shot plus six years for the remaining, non-fatal shots.

Under that scenario, Van Dyke would be eligible for parole after 15 years. He would be 55.

9:47 a.m.: Closed-door meeting in judge's chambers delays start Before the televised proceedings began in earnest, Judge Vincent Gaughan called the attorneys behind closed doors to discuss certain witnesses’ objection to being shown on camera.

Both the prosecution and defense are expected to call witnesses to the stand to discuss the effects of the shooting on McDonald’s family or to vouch for Van Dyke’s character.

The proceedings will be shown on video and audio unless Gaughan grants the witnesses’ requests to be exempted.

9:12 a.m.: Sentencing hearing has begun Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan has taken the bench before a packed courtroom as attorneys and spectators prepare for what could be a lengthy sentencing hearing for Jason Van Dyke.

Van Dyke’s family and well-wishers crowded into benches on one side of the room. Among those in attendance are Van Dyke’s wife, father and two school-age daughters.

On the other side of the gallery sat Laquan McDonald’s family and supporters, including the teen’s great-uncle, the Rev. Marvin Hunter.

Background: What you need to know In October, a jury convicted Van Dyke of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each bullet that riddled McDonald’s body — after a four-week trial. The verdict marked the first time in more than 50 years that a Chicago police officer had been convicted of murder for an on-duty incident.

Van Dyke shot McDonald as the teen, high on PCP, walked down Pulaski Road ignoring commands to drop a knife he was holding. The court-ordered release of a police dashboard camera video of the shooting roiled the city, leading to a political reckoning and police reforms.

Some experts believe Van Dyke, 40, could face as much as 96 years in prison, though debate in the legal community continues over the precise sentencing range.

The ex-patrol officer’s defense team has asked for probation, while the prosecution has given its blessing for a sentence that could result in Van Dyke’s freedom while he’s still young enough to rebuild his life. Special prosecutor Joseph McMahon has not made a specific recommendation on how many years Van Dyke should be incarcerated, but a memorandum he filed this week outlined a way for the officer to be sentenced to 18 years in prison.

The final decision rests with Judge Vincent Gaughan, a veteran jurist who has given no public indication of how he will structure Van Dyke’s punishment.

Gaughan’s decision comes a day after his colleague, Stephenson, issued a surprisingly brutal takedown of the prosecution case in acquitting retired Detective David March, ex-patrolman Joseph Walsh and Officer Thomas Gaffney on all charges.

Stephenson made much of the fact that the infamous police dashboard camera video did not show the shooting from the vantage of Van Dyke or his partner, Walsh — a note that Van Dyke’s attorneys also emphasized at his trial, though without success.

Stephenson also suggested that Van Dyke and Walsh could have had a reasonable fear for their safety and should not be second-guessed “as to what they should have believed.”

Van Dyke’s jury disagreed with her assessment, finding that Van Dyke’s belief that he was justified in shooting McDonald was unwarranted.

In the Van Dyke case, both the defense and prosecution positions on sentencing reflect the unique nature of the case given that Van Dyke, a longtime public servant, has no previous criminal record. The defense argued that police officers face difficult circumstances in prison, a point McMahon also has acknowledged in the three months since Van Dyke’s conviction.

Police officers often are segregated from the prison population for their safety, though studies have shown long-term isolation to be detrimental to inmates. Since his conviction, Van Dyke has been in solitary confinement in the Rock Island County Jail — rather than in Cook County — since October in order to better protect him.

To bolster its probation request, the defense legal team filed dozens of letters written by Van Dyke’s friends and relatives, including his wife, daughters and parents. His daughters, ages 17 and 12, both asked Gaughan for leniency, saying their family has suffered tremendously since the verdict.

Van Dyke’s younger daughter described how she has nightmares and cannot concentrate at school. His older daughter wrote that she has struggled with depression since the trial and cries herself to sleep each night wondering if her father has enough blankets and food in prison.

Van Dyke lost his law-enforcement certification following his conviction.

mcrepeau@chicagotribune.com

cmgutowski@chicagotribune.com

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

sstclair@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @crepeau

Twitter @jmetr22b

Twitter @christygutowsk1

Twitter @StacyStClair

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon