Jason Van Dyke’s second-degree murder conviction means jurors first agreed he was guilty of first-degree murder —but a so-called “mitigating factor” ultimately lessened the crime.
Though a conviction for second-degree murder doesn’t necessarily carry prison time, Van Dyke’s additional convictions on 16 counts of aggravated battery guarantee he will spend time behind bars.
To find him guilty of first-degree murder, jurors had to find that Van Dyke “performed the acts which caused the death of Laquan McDonald” and when he did so, he “intended to kill or do great bodily harm to Laquan McDonald or he knew that such acts would cause death to Laquan McDonald or he knew that such acts created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to Laquan McDonald” and he “was not justified in using the force which he used.”
Prosecutors had to prove those points beyond a reasonable doubt — the highest standard of proof in the court system. Jurors clearly crossed that threshold. But the judge then instructed them to consider a “mitigating” factor.
Van Dyke’s lawyers had to prove that he, “at the time he performed the acts which caused the death of Laquan McDonald, believed the circumstances to be such that they justified (the) deadly force he used, but his belief that such circumstances existed was unreasonable.”
Van Dyke’s defense team had only to prove that it was more likely true than not.
Following the verdict, three jurors, identified only by their numbers, said they had problems deciding between first and second-degree murder. They said they had to “break everything down and talk with each other.”
“Second-degree was the mitigating factor that in Mr. Van Dyke’s mind he was doing the right thing, he was experiencing an extreme threat, in his mind that’s how he’s experiencing it, and he felt like he needed to protect himself,” one of the jurors added.
That juror said the others ultimately agreed.
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