Jason Van Dyke sentenced to more than 6 years in prison for McDonald murder
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A Cook County judge on Friday sentenced ex-Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke to more than six years in prison for the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.
Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke to 81 months in prison, only on the charge of second-degree murder. Gaughan chose not to sentence Van Dyke on the aggravated battery charges, which carried more serious time and cut Van Dyke a serious break.
With good behavior, Van Dyke would serve about half his prison sentence.
Gaughan handed his sentence down abruptly after telling the courtroom, “it’s just so senseless that these acts occurred.”
“You can see the pain on both sides of the family,” Gaughan said.
Before handing down the penalty, Gaughan ruled that he would sentence Van Dyke for the crime of second-degree murder — not for the 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. After a detailed legal explanation, the judge said he considered whether it is “more serious for Laquan McDonald to be shot by a firearm or is it more serious for Laquan McDonald to be murdered?”
The judge said “common sense” brought him to an easy answer.
Van Dyke was led away from the courtroom shortly after the sentence was handed down. As authorities began to escort him away, a court official waved repeatedly at TV cameras to stop filming.
Van Dyke will likely serve less time in prison than another Chicago cop, Marco Proano, who was convicted in federal court in 2017 of civil rights violations after firing into stolen car filled with teenagers, wounding two but killing no one. Proano got five years in prison but will likely serve 85 percent of that sentence under federal rules.
The last CPD officer convicted of murder for an on-duty shooting was Richard Nuccio in 1969. He received a 14-year sentence.
Van Dyke’s wife praised the judge for showing mercy, but activists were outraged over the judge’s decision.
Activist Will Calloway, who played a role in bringing the now infamous video of the shooting to light, said: “It’s a slap in the face to say black lives don’t matter in this criminal courthouse.”
“We want to heal . . . We want to be able to create better relationships between law enforcement and the black community,” Calloway said.
“Laquan, we love you . . . He’s the victim here. He always was the victim.”
In a joint statement released minutes after the sentencing, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said: “Today’s sentencing marks the end of a court case, but our work to bring lasting reform to the Chicago Police Department continues. While a jury and judge have rendered their decisions, all of us who love Chicago and call this city home must continue to work together, listen to each other, and repair relationships that will make Chicago safer and stronger for generations to come.”
5:11 p.m. Jason Van Dyke says he prays for the soul of Laquan McDonald
Ex-Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke gave a brief statement to the judge at his sentencing hearing Friday, saying he prays for Laquan McDonald and talking about the consequences of his actions.
“As a god-fearing man and father, I will have to live with this for the rest of my life, taking it to my grave.”
“No one wants to take someone’s life, even in defense of one’s own. It’s a choice you live with forever.”
The judge is expected to hand down the sentence shortly.
5:00 p.m. Prosecutor asks for a prison sentence of between 18 and 20 years
The man who led the prosecution of Jason Van Dyke asked for a prison sentence of between 18 and 20 years Friday afternoon.
Van Dyke’s prosecution “has been devastating,” Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon said. Devastating to the family of Laquan McDonald, to the community, to the country — and to Van Dyke’s family.
McMahon, giving his final argument in Van Dyke’s much-anticipated sentencing hearing, said the pain felt by Van Dyke’s family has been “caused by the actions of her husband, their father and their son.”
McMahon insisted the prosecution was not pursued “because of the media reaction to 16 shots” and not “because of the community’s reaction.”
“He has betrayed the public trust that we, as a community, give to law enforcement,” McMahon said.
McMahon’s request marked the first time prosecutors publicly specified what punishment they are seeking for Van Dyke.
McMahon said Van Dyke “betrayed his fellow police officers.”
The prosecutor told Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan that a sentence of probation would not be appropriate.
4:24 p.m. Tiffany Van Dyke: ‘My children have paid the price’
Jason Van Dyke’s wife told a judge “my children have paid the price” for her husband’s conviction for the death of Laquan McDonald.
Tiffany Van Dyke took the witness stand Friday and said “my life has been a nightmare.” But she became emotional when speaking about her children.
“Both my daughters are very heartbroken,” Tiffany Van Dyke said. “They’ve had the only person — he was the first person to hold them when they were born. He is their absolute everything. He is their life. And they’re torn apart. My children don’t sleep. They don’t eat. They have nightmares. They don’t feel safe in our home.”
She said they’ve been bullied in school by “children who have no idea about life — telling them that their father is a murderer.”
“The last name, Van Dyke, is not a name that goes well within the city of Chicago,” Tiffany said.
Since Van Dyke’s conviction, she said she spends $400 to $500 a week on phone calls just so she and her daughters can speak to her husband. And she said her life has been turned upside down.
“I cannot sleep without him in my bed beside me,” Tiffany Van Dyke said.
Van Dyke’s wife said her husband prepared her to attend his trial — telling her how scary he knew it would be. And she said it was “shocking” what they had to go through to come and go from a public courthouse.
“I was afraid every day coming in and out of this courthouse that somebody was going to shoot and kill my husband,” Tiffany Van Dyke said.
Though Van Dyke’s children did not attend the trial, she said she decided to bring them to court for his sentencing.
“This will be the last time that they see their father before he goes to prison,” she said. “They need to be able to see him, physically.”
Tiffany Van Dyke said to the family of Laquan McDonald, “we do pray every single day for your family.”
But she became most emotional when she said, “my biggest fear is that somebody will kill my husband.
“For something he did as a police officer. Something he was trained to do. There was no malice. No hatred on that night. It was simply a man doing his job. My other fear is that I’ll never see him again. My children will never see him again.”
4:03 p.m. FOP president praises Van Dyke
Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham said “if justice is served” Jason Van Dyke would not get a long prison sentence.
He also said the Chicago Police Department shares in the responsibility for what happened the night Laquan McDonald was killed, and “they’re not here to take the responsibility and they’re leaving it on him. And that’s wrong.”
Graham said Van Dyke “has a good work ethic” and “made sure that people were taken care of.”
He also said many police officers have come up to him to ask what to do if they find themselves in the same situation Van Dyke found himself in.
“I’ve told them, the law has not changed,” Graham said. “And we need to make sure that we stay safe as police officers and that we go home to our families.”
3:54 p.m. Van Dyke’s sister tells about his childhood
Jason Van Dyke’s sister took the stand Friday as a parade of witnesses neared its end in Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing Friday.
Heidi Kauffunger told the judge about Van Dyke’s childhood — describing him as a rule-follower who always came home on time and befriended a boy with Down syndrome in the neighborhood. She also told the judge how public spotlight and criminal charges have changed her brother.
“When he comes to court, there are people outside screaming that he is a murderer,” she said.
She also said when Van Dyke did go out in public after charges were filed, he did so in disguise. She said Van Dyke’s daughters have been bullied, and someone threatened to shoot his youngest daughter.
“I just really worry about them being able to grow up without their dad there,” she said.
3:40 p.m. Not a racist, but a ‘gentle giant,’ Van Dyke’s brother-in-law says
Jason Van Dyke’s brother-in-law denied the convicted former cop is a racist and called him a “gentle giant” on the stand Friday.
“He’s my brother,” said Keith Thompson, who identified himself on the witness stand as African-American.
“He’s always the one to calm down a situation,” Thompson said. “He’s always the one who talks everybody down.”
Thompson said Van Dyke “demanded respect and he also gave respect.” And he asked the judge to consider everything Van Dyke has already lost.
“We just ask that if he goes to prison, it’s going to be a tragic outcome for his family to try and survive on their own,” Thompson said. “They’re going to lose everything.”
3:24 p.m. Ex-FOP president: Van Dyke ‘not the monster people have made him out to be’
Former Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo Sr. took the stand Friday to insist Jason Van Dyke is “not the monster people have made him out to be in the media and the political circles.”
Angelo described the FOP’s efforts to help Van Dyke and his wife, Tiffany, secure employment and insurance after Van Dyke was charged with the murder of Laquan McDonald.
“He’s a hard worker,” Angelo said. “He’s dedicated. He’s a good dad. He’s religious. He is quite loyal.”
Referring to McDonald’s death, Angelo said, “I know this wasn’t something that he set out to do.”
He also said today’s sentencing hearing wouldn’t be happening if Van Dyke had shot McDonald twice, not 16 times.
“It’s the emotional component associated with those other shots,” Angelo said.
3:12 p.m. ‘God help the city of Chicago’
Veteran Chicago police officers who once worked with Jason Van Dyke took the stand Friday afternoon to speak on his behalf.
One, Kenneth Watt, said he and Van Dyke got to know each other through corresponding court dates. He called Van Dyke a “good man.”
“He had a good reputation,” Watt said. “Good guy. Good guy to work with. Good worker.”
Watt also said he wanted to “beg for mercy of the court, that’s for sure. Jason was a good police officer — gave a lot of years to the city of Chicago.”
He said Van Dyke, “did what he was trained to do, and that’s what got him in this mess.”
Finally, he said, “people get the police that they seek.”
“And God help the city of Chicago.”
2:59 p.m. Jason Van Dyke’s daughter says the verdict ‘ripped’ her heart from her chest
Jason Van Dyke’s daughter took the stand Friday afternoon as her father’s sentencing hearing continued.
No audio or video of her testimony was allowed. She read a letter she had written to the judge, one of nearly 200 letters filed by Van Dyke’s defense team.
Van Dyke, who has shown little emotion today, used a tissue to wipe his eyes while 17-year-old Kaylee Van Dyke said, “over the last three years, I have been bullied, teased, picked on, you name it, all because my dad did his job.”
She sniffled as she recited a speech she gave in her high school civics class.
It was called, “The Harsh Reality of What a Police Officer’s Life is Like.”
The high school junior was pulled out of class during jury deliberations in her father’s trial because school administrators were worried about threats one of her classmates made on social media.
When she heard the jury’s verdict, she said Friday, her heart was “ripped out of her chest.”
2:46 p.m. Police officer counters choking allegations
A veteran Chicago police officer testified about the night Jeremy Mayers was arrested in March 2011 as Jason Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing continued Friday afternoon.
Earlier Friday, Mayers accused Van Dyke of choking him and twisting his arm following a traffic stop. Chicago Police Officer Robert Warzocha was involved in the stop, and he took the stand Friday following a lunch break in the hearing.
Warzocha said he never saw Van Dyke choke Mayers that night nor did he see Van Dyke twist Mayers’ arm. He also said Mayers “never complained to me about any kind of physical abuse.”
The officer did acknowledge that he was not always with Van Dyke and Mayers during the arrest and processing.
1:49 p.m. Great-uncle’s statement: Van Dyke became ‘judge, jury and executioner’
The great uncle of Laquan McDonald, Marvin Hunter, read a statement in court he had written from the perspective of his dead great-nephew who was killed by Jason Van Dyke.
“I am unable to speak with my own voice for the crimes of which I was accused and suspected of because of a Chicago police officer by the name of Jason Van Dyke who decided that he would become judge, jury and executioner,” the statement said.
Hunter’s statement said McDonald would have soon moved into a home with his mother and sister after his mother worked to overcome a drug addiction.
“However, Jason Van Dyke, with his cold, callous disregard for the life of a young black man, without me provoking him, robbed us of this,” it went on.
“My death has brought inconsolable pain to my mother and my baby sister,” said the statement, read by Hunter.
It also said Van Dyke “has not just destroyed my life and affected my family, but he has destroyed the life of his wife and children as well as my family and his family.”
Finally, it said, “why should this person, who has ended my life forever, because he chose to become judge, jury and executioner — and has never asked for forgiveness — be free when I’m dead forever?”
1:35 p.m. Witness fails to identify Van Dyke in court
A deaf man who also has trouble seeing tried to testify Friday during the sentencing hearing of Jason Van Dyke — but he couldn’t identify Van Dyke in court.
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan even sent the man, Alberto Luces, into the well of the courtroom to scan the entire area for Van Dyke. The man failed to find him, telling the judge through a sign-language interpreter, “I tried to look and I tried to see, but it’s been a long time.”
The man had been expected to testify about an incident in March 2013, but prosecutors finally stopped trying to question the witness.
When the judge told Luces he could leave, he said through the interpreter, “I’m done? Really done?”
12:33 p.m. Man resists looking at Van Dyke — ‘I don’t wanna’
A man who won a $350,000 judgment in a federal lawsuit involving Jason Van Dyke gave emotional testimony during Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing Friday — and he resisted even looking at Van Dyke to identify him.
“I don’t wanna,” Edward Nance said as he fought through tears on the witness stand.
Nance told the judge how Van Dyke berated him and injured him during a July 9, 2007, traffic stop. Nance had been in the car with his cousin.
When Van Dyke approached the car on 87th near Martin Luther King Drive, Nance said Van Dyke told him to “open this motherf—ing door . . . open this motherf—ing door right now.” Nance resisted. But he said, “I guess my cousin unlocked the door,” and Van Dyke eventually pulled him out of the car.
Nance said Van Dyke “threw me face first on the car” and yanked his arms around his back to handcuff him. Nance said Van Dyke hurt his arms and shoulders enough that he had surgery three times. He also said he now suffers from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The pain in his arms cost him his previous work as a referee.
“I’m in constant pain, every day,” Nance said.
However, he said that when he complained to Van Dyke about his pain, Van Dyke told him, “shut up.”
Nance eventually won a $350,000 judgment in federal court against Van Dyke and Officer Thomas McKenna, court records show.
12:10 p.m. Witness: Van Dyke ‘definitely in the right attire’
A third witness at Jason Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing told a prosecutor, “he’s definitely in the right attire.”
Eric Breathett said he was stopped by police while driving east on 79th on July 13, 2009. Describing himself as a “young black man in America,” he said he was afraid of what might happen. He said he rolled his window down and asked the two officers — one was Van Dyke — why he was being stopped.
“They said you know what you’re being stopped for,” Breathett said.
Breathett acknowledged he had rolled through a stop sign.
He said the officers asked him to get out of the car and accused him of disturbing the peace — he allegedly had his radio on too loud. However, he denied it and said his radio wasn’t even connected at the time. Breathett said the officers acted “unprofessional” and began to ask him questions about shootings in the area.
Breathett said he wound up being taken to jail and signed a ticket to get out.
The man made his comment about Van Dyke’s attire when he was asked to identify him in the courtroom. Van Dyke is wearing a yellow jail jumpsuit in court.
Later, defense attorney Dan Herbert asked, “you think (Van Dyke) belongs in prison, right?”
Breathett said “yes, definitely.” But he denied having seen the infamous video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald.
11:43 a.m. Man claims Jason Van Dyke choked him inside a squad car
A man alleged Friday that Jason Van Dyke choked him inside a squad car years ago, making his claim as Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing continued.
Jeremy Mayers described the details of a March 19, 2011, traffic stop at 64th and Cottage Grove that ended with Mayers in the back of a police squad car.
Mayers said he was originally stopped because “I didn’t make a turn signal.” But eventually, he said, “I think they smelled alcohol on my breath.”
On the witness stand Friday, Mayers said he was “not intoxicated” that night but, “I had drunk a little something.” He would later be convicted for driving under the influence, he said.
Mayers said he wound up in the back seat of a squad car behind the front passenger seat, where Van Dyke was sitting. After he was taken to a police station at 71st and Cottage Grove, Mayers said he found himself alone in the squad car with Van Dyke.
That’s when Van Dyke apparently realized Mayers had a cough drop in his mouth.
“He told me to remove it,” Mayers said. “And I told him ‘no.’”
Then, Mayers said, Van Dyke “turned around and started choking me, trying to get it out.”
Mayers said he was cuffed with his hands behind his back at the time. And in court, he used one of his own hands to show how Van Dyke “choked me like that.”
“He stopped my breath a little bit,” Mayers said.
The man said Van Dyke choked him for about five or 10 seconds. Then, he said Van Dyke took him into the police station.
In court Friday, Mayers said, “I can’t even look at the man right now.” He said Van Dyke “didn’t have no remorse or nothing. I just can’t look over there.”
11:17 a.m. Witness says Van Dyke held gun to his temple in 2005, yelled racial slurs
The first witness in the sentencing hearing of Jason Van Dyke alleged that more than a decade ago, Van Dyke held a gun to his temple and shouted obscenities and racial slurs at him during a traffic stop.
Vidale Joy, who identified himself as a “published author and poet,” said that the incident has left him with so much anxiety whenever a police officer pulls behind him on the road that he becomes “momentarily catatonic.”
While describing the August 10, 2005, traffic stop, Joy said the officer who approached was “the defendant, Van Dyke, over there.”
“He approached my car with his gun drawn,” Joy said.
Van Dyke watched Joy’s testimony with a blank stare.
Joy said the traffic stop occurred around 10:50 p.m. as soon as he left a gas station at Cermak and Ogden. He said he only got about 1,000 feet from the gas station when he was pulled over by several squad cars. Multiple officers, including Van Dyke, approached.
“He was shouting obscenities, racial slurs or what have you,” Joy said.
Joy later alleged that Van Dyke called him a “black a– n—–.”
Under questioning by defense attorney Daniel Herbert, Joy said he had recently purchased the car, which was registered under his name in the state of Minnesota, but he did not have the proper tags on the car. A traffic ticket against Joy was eventually dismissed.
Herbert pointed out that a complaint filed with the Office of Professional Standards by Joy did not specifically say Van Dyke had used “racial slurs.” Joy said the report did allege he used profanities, and Joy believed that word covered it.
10:35 a.m. Legal arguments underway
Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon carefully walked the judge through the complicated legal factors governing Jason Van Dyke’s ultimate sentence as Friday’s hearing got underway in earnest.
But much like the court papers filed ahead of Van Dyke’s sentencing, McMahon’s comments provided little clarity as to how the hearing might finally play out.
Still, McMahon made his position clear on one question facing the judge: He said “aggravated battery with a firearm is a more serious offense.” The question is crucial because, if the judge finds differently, Van Dyke could get a sentence as light as probation. A jury found Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.
The minimum sentence for aggravated battery with a firearm is six years in prison. Not only that, but McMahon said that, if the judge makes a finding of “severe bodily injury” associated with any of those counts, that would mean Van Dyke must serve time for them back-to-back. That could amount to a minimum prison sentence of 96 years.
On the other hand, McMahon pointed to the testimony of a defense expert who said at least two gunshots caused severe bodily injury. Under that theory, McMahon said, Van Dyke is looking at a minimum sentence of 18 years.
Finally, McMahon said he will ask the judge to also sentence Van Dyke on second-degree murder — which he said Van Dyke should serve concurrently to an aggravated battery sentence.
Van Dyke’s lawyer, Darren O’Brien, a former Cook County prosecutor, argued that his client can’t be sentenced on both second-degree and aggravate battery charges under the law. Van Dyke should be sentenced on the second-degree murder charge, O’Brien argued, saying the woundings from the aggravated battery should merge into the death.
10:15 a.m. Back in the courtroom, judge warns against disruptions: ‘You will go to jail’
Following a lengthy recess, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan addressed people in the courtroom gallery.
Though the judge said “everybody has been acting fantastic,” he warned that images of the crowd were being recorded in case there is a disruption during the sentencing hearing.
“If there is a disruption, you will go to jail,” Gaughan said.
After that, Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon began his argument on the legal aspects of Van Dyke’s sentencing.
9:19 a.m. Judge lays out the agenda for Jason Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan started Friday’s sentencing hearing for former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke by explaining how things will play out.
First, the judge said he wants to hear objections from witnesses who do not want to be recorded on audio and video during the hearing.
Second, lawyers will argue over a key legal issue — whether aggravated battery is a more serious crime than second-degree murder. The debate has significant implications for Van Dyke’s ultimate sentence. For second-degree murder, Van Dyke could receive probation. Van Dyke has been convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.
Finally, lawyers will argue over aggravation and mitigation factors and give closing arguments, setting Gaughan up for a decision.
Van Dyke appeared briefly in court as Gaughan laid this out Friday morning. He wore a yellow jail jumpsuit and sported a beard as he stood beside his lawyers.
6 a.m. Van Dyke’s lawyers to argue for probation; prosecution says he could get 96 years
A Cook County judge will sentence Jason Van Dyke on second-degree murder and aggravated battery charges Friday morning, issuing a historic ruling less than 24 hours after three of Van Dyke’s fellow officers were acquitted on charges they tried to cover up for him.
In filings ahead of Friday’s hearing, Van Dyke’s lawyers argued the 40-year-old Chicago police officer deserves probation for the 2014 shooting, while prosecutors argued that the minimum sentence could be as high as 96 years. Courthouse observers are divided on what sentence Judge Vincent Gaughan will fashion for Van Dyke, who was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, one for each time he shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Addressing reporters in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Thursday following the acquittal of Van Dyke’s fellow officers Thomas Gaffney, David March and Joseph Walsh in the conspiracy case, activist Will Calloway said he favored a long sentence for Van Dyke.
“We want a minimum of 96 years for Jason Van Dyke,” he said. “Nothing less.”
Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer convicted of murder for an on-duty shooting in decades. Richard Nuccio, who also was convicted of murdering a knife-wielding teenager, received a 14-year sentence in 1969.
The hearing is set to begin at 9 a.m., with arguments on the sentencing by Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon and Van Dyke’s lawyers, a legal team that has added two new attorneys, Darren O’Brien and Jennifer Blagg, ahead of the sentencing.
Sentencing hearings also typically feature a lengthy discussion of aggravating and mitigating factors of the crime, which can range from the defendant’s prior criminal record — and Van Dyke has none — to their service to the community. Gaughan, a Vietnam veteran and active member of the American Legion, is thought to think highly of the public service of police officers.
A victim-impact statement is also a standard part of a sentencing hearing, typically featuring one or more close family members testifying about the pain of losing a loved one. McDonald’s mother, Tina Hunter, has seldom appeared in the courtroom during the trial, though prosecutors said she watched the proceedings on live video from a room in the Cook County state’s attorney offices.
Finally, the defendant has a chance to address the judge before the final ruling on a sentence, a moment when most lawyers counsel their clients to express remorse and sympathy for the family of the deceased. Van Dyke’s monologue could be less complicated than for most defendants who have maintained their innocence in a trial, as he has already taken the stand and described the shooting in vivid detail.
Testifying during his trial, Van Dyke recalled seeing McDonald turn toward him and firing his gun but was uncertain about how many shots he fired. Van Dyke said little about feelings of regret, emphasizing his fear in the moment and his focus on the knife that remained in McDonald’s hand even after the teen had slumped to the pavement.