A Sneed exclusive
The night before Jason Van Dyke was sentenced to less than seven years in prison for killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, his wife Tiffany slipped into her husband’s pajamas and slept on his side of the bed.
“It’s my way of having something of my husband,” Tiffany told Sneed the day before the former Chicago Police officer’s future was decided by Criminal Court Judge Vincent Gaughan.
Immediately after the sentence was handed down Friday evening, Tiffany Van Dyke was grateful for the sentence that was far less than the 18-20 years prosecutors requested, and far less than the 96 years possible under sentencing laws.
“I am thankful the judge showed some mercy for Jason,” she said, a family spokeswoman told Sneed. “We will continue to pray for the McDonald family and to support Jason. This is a tragedy for both of our families.”
Tiffany was “shocked” by the sentence, the spokeswoman said.
Tiffany teared up when the sentence was handed down. She was sitting next to the couple’s 17-year-old daughter, Kaylee, who was crying.
Tiffany and Kaylee Van Dyke testified at the sentencing hearing Friday, and Gaughan noted the impact of that testimony — as well as that of McDonald’s family — on his decision. Tiffany cried on the stand and told the court she worried that her husband could be killed.
The two, along with another daughter, 12, met with their father on Friday morning before the hearing, the first time they had seen him without a glass partition between them since the guilty verdict was handed down in early October and he was sent to Rock Island County Jail.
They were also allowed to see him after the sentence was handed down.
“The meeting was very emotional,” the spokeswoman said. Jason Van Dyke was “very happy because he knew he’d be home with his family soon,” a family source said.
Keith Thompson, Jason Van Dyke’s brother-in-law, seemed relieved when I spoke with him after the sentence. He also addressed the judge Friday about the man he calls his “brother” and urged leniency. Thompson, who is African-American and married to Tiffany’s sister, had promised to watch over the family in Van Dyke’s absence.
The night before the verdict, Tiffany described the toll the case has taken on her family as “colossal devastation.”
Tiffany claims her youngest daughter startled her when she asked for a “camcorder” for Christmas.
“I asked her why she wanted something like that,” Tiffany said. “Then she told me she wanted the camcorder because she wanted to record all the fun and special moments our family would be having while dad was gone so he could see them when he came home.”
“It was a remarkable thing to say from someone so young. She’s only 12. It was heartbreaking, yet so incredibly thoughtful.”
While her husband awaited sentencing in isolation in jail, the Van Dyke cadre of family and friends have taken turns visiting him behind glass walls.
“It’s been nerve wracking. High stress,” she said.
“The holidays were really bad. Their dad wasn’t there Christmas morning to open gifts.”
They’ve had weekly visits that last just an hour.
“But he is still doing his dad duty. Parenting by phone and through glass. But he is still there for them.”
Tiffany holds out hope for an appeal.
“I just hope justice is served on the next level … [in] the Appellate court. That my husband gets the justice he deserves.”
While she has considered leaving Chicago, she said she will not do so.
“I am completely turned off to the city I fell in love with,” she said. “I am disgusted with the corruption. Unfortunately, I cannot move. I now have new employment that offers us health insurance thank goodness, but it leaves me no availability to leave Chicago. I also know it will be hard wherever they send Jason. My only affordable transportation will be our car.”
Despite the family despair, Tiffany claims: “We are moving forward … but not without my husband.
“Jason may not be physically present with us on this journey, but we are going to be with him all the way,” she told Sneed.
“I’ve lived half my life with him and I refuse to live without him for the rest of it.”