A former Chicago police officer found guilty of second-degree murder in the off-duty shooting of an unarmed man in 2017 was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison.
Lowell Houser, 60, sat slumped in a chair between his lawyers as Cook County Judge William Gamboney handed down the sentence. The charges carried a possible sentence of probation or a maximum term of 20 years. Houser will get credit for the nearly three years he spent on an ankle monitor awaiting trial. He is expected to be released from custody in about two years.
Noting the case being a tough one for him, Gamboney acknowledged Houser’s role in escalating a dispute with Jose Nieves that led to the fatal shooting.
"It was not reasonable to believe that circumstances existed to justify the use of deadly force in this case," the judge said in his 15-page decision.
During trial in October, prosecutors said Houser shot the 38-year-old Nieves during an argument outside an apartment complex where the victim lived. But Houser, a 28-year police veteran who was on medical leave for cancer treatment at the time of the shooting, claims that Nieves made a threatening move and he then acted in self-defense.
“Mr. Houser had a multitude of alternatives during his interaction with Mr. Nieves,” Gamboney said. “We can sit here and debate what he could have done ... but Mr. Houser chose probably the most extreme (option) in that list of circumstances, and as a result, we have a 37-year-old man ... Jose Nieves, who is dead.”
Houser, who spoke briefly, stopped short of expressing remorse for Nieves’ death.
“I sincerely send my condolences to the Nieves family,” he said. “Many times I went over in my mind if there was something I could have done to prevent this, but, unfortunately, I can only look at this in hindsight.”
Houser was the first Chicago officer to be found guilty of murder since the historic conviction last year of then-Officer Jason Van Dyke.
In 2018, a jury found Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of black teenager Laquan McDonald and 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each bullet the white officer fired at the 17-year-old in 2014. A judge subsequently sentenced him to just under seven years in prison.