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Prosecutors: Jason Van Dyke could get 96 years for Laquan McDonald murder

Former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke with his defense attorneys Elizabeth Fleming and Daniel Herbert attend a post conviction hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building Friday, December 14, 2018. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/pool

Cook County prosecutors say that Jason Van Dyke could face a mandatory sentence of as many as 96 years in prison for the murder of Laquan McDonald, according to court documents. Lawyers for Van Dyke, the first Chicago Police officer in more than four decades to be convicted of murder in an on-duty shooting, have asked the judge to sentence him to probation.

Judge Vincent Gaughan is expected to render his decision on Van Dyke’s sentence at a hearing Friday. A brief filed by Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon argues that Van Dyke, who in October was found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, must serve a minimum of six years on each count of aggravated battery. Those sentences must run back-to-back if the judge finds any count is linked to a serious injury suffered by McDonald.

Prosecutors, in the brief, did not say how many years in prison they think Van Dyke should serve. But with Van Dyke convicted of 16 separate counts of aggravated battery, 16 consecutive six-year sentences would add up to 96 years. The maximum sentence for aggravated battery with a firearm is 30 years.

Van Dyke’s lawyers on Monday also filed their sentencing brief and argued the veteran officer should be sentenced on the second-degree murder count, a charge for which Gaughan could give the first-time offender a probation-only sentence or a prison term ranging from four to 20 years.

A sentence for second-degree murder also can be cut in half for good behavior while in prison, meaning Van Dyke might have to serve only 10 years in prison even if he got a maximum sentence. State law requires anyone convicted of aggravated battery to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.

Debate among courthouse observers over the length of Van Dyke’s minimum and maximum prison time has been unusually divided, owing both to the rarity of a police officer being charged with murder and the fact that the same shooting was the basis for both a charge of murder and more than a dozen counts of aggravated battery.

Van Dyke’s sentence might hinge on how many of the shots Judge Gaughan considers to have been potentially lethal. At trial, a medical examiner said that each wound McDonald suffered contributed to the blood loss that ultimately killed McDonald.

A defense expert argued that one bullet in particular, which tore through an artery near McDonald’s heart, likely caused him to bleed to death almost immediately, though doctors at Mount Sinai hospital performed surgery on McDonald in an attempt to save him.

Van Dyke has been lodged at a County Jail in the Quad Cities area since shortly after his guilty verdict was issued in October.

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