On October 5, a jury found former Chicago Police Department officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and aggravated battery. Today (January 18), Van Dyke was sentenced to six years and nine months for killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
The decision comes more than four years after Van Dyke, who is White, shot the Black teenager 16 times, prompting protests against the department and a government that worked overtime to hide details of the shooting.
Yesterday (January 17), a Cook County judge acquitted three police officers—Detective David March and officers Thomas Gaffney and Joseph Walsh—who were facing “felony charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice for allegedly attempting to prevent or shape the investigation,” per NBC Chicago.
In today’s hearing, the prosecution called witnesses who had endured previous interactions with Van Dyke. One of them, Vidale Joy, reportedly said that in 2005, Van Dyke put a gun to his head and called him a “Black-ass nigger.”
Just before lunch, McDonald’s great-uncle, Reverend Marvin Hunter, read a letter to the court that he wrote in his grand-nephew’s voice:
What happened to me can never be changed, but other young Black men and women will not have to face Jason Van Dyke and his evil and selfish ways…. I’m a real victim of murder and that can never be changed. Please think about me and my life when you sentence this person to prison.
Per Chicago Tribune, Van Dyke’s defense team argued for him to be punished only for the second-degree murder count, which could have carried a penalty of four to 20 years. The prosecution pushed for sentencing based on the 16 counts of aggravated battery—one for each shot he fired into the boy’s body—which could have drawn a sentence of 96 years (minimum of six years per count). Ultimately, in closing remarks, the prosecution asked the judge to sentence Van Dyke to 20 years.
Instead, Judge Vincent Gaughan opted to use the murder charge as his guide, saying, “Is it more serious for Laquan McDonald to be shot by a firearm or is it more serious for Laquan McDonald to be murdered by a firearm?” His decision means that Van Dyke could be out of prison in less than three-and-a-half years, as the sentence allows for a 50 percent reduction for good behavior, per the Tribune.
Reverend Hunter spoke to the press following the verdict. “Clearly this was a murder. The whole world knows it and saw it,” he said. “This is a historic moment for us. I know a lot of people are angry, but this is a victory. We have a million miles to go, but it must start with a first step. And we took that first step today.”