CHICAGO (Reuters) – A sentencing hearing for white former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke started on Friday after a jury found him guilty of murder last fall in the 2014 shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald.
FILE PHOTO: Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke is lead away after his guilty verdict in his murder trial in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., October 5, 2018. Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Pool via REUTERS
Van Dyke, 40, appearing unshaven and wearing a yellow-orange jail uniform in court, faces up to 20 years in prison for his second-degree murder conviction and up to 30 years for each of 16 counts of aggravated battery – one count for each shot he fired at McDonald, who was carrying a knife.
The October verdict was the first time an on-duty Chicago police officer was held criminally accountable for the killing of an African-American. It touched off celebratory street demonstrations in Chicago.
The jury’s verdict followed numerous acquittals or mistrials of police officers facing criminal charges across the country in the deaths of black men.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Gaughan presided over Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing.
During the hearing, prosecutor Joseph McMahon argued that aggravated battery with a firearm is a more serious offense than second-degree murder and that Van Dyke committed 16 separate acts when he shot McDonald 16 times.
“There is sufficient evidence for you to impose a sentence on both aggravated battery and second-degree murder and ample legal reason for you to impose a concurrent sentence on both,” he told the judge.
But Van Dyke attorney Darren O’Brien argued the aggravated battery convictions should be merged with the second-degree murder conviction. “Death is the injury in this case, not the aggravated batteries,” O’Brien said.
The hearing came a day after another judge found three of Van Dyke’s former police colleagues not guilty of conspiring to protect him after he fatally shot 17-year-old McDonald.
Days of protests erupted in the third-largest U.S. city when a dashboard camera video of the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting was released more than a year later in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The video also prompted the dismissal of the city’s police superintendent and calls for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign. Emanuel is not running in next month’s mayoral election.
Prosecutors showed the video repeatedly during the three-week trial. Jurors said they faulted Van Dyke for escalating the conflict when he could have waited for an officer with a non-lethal Taser weapon.
Van Dyke is subject to a minimum sentence of 18 years, prosecutors said in a court document this week. The defense seeks probation for second-degree murder, another court document said.
Police killings of mostly unarmed black men and teens elsewhere in the United States helped fuel the Black Lives Matter movement and were mentioned in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
Van Dyke testified in his own defense, saying he feared for his safety and fired because McDonald was advancing on him. Both the officer and his lawyers argued that the angle of the video did not reflect Van Dyke’s perspective.
Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales and Robert Chiarito in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Jonathan Oatis