In Landmark Decision, Van Dyke Sentenced to Nearly 7 Years for Laquan McDoanld Shooting

As the hearing came to an end, special prosecutor Joseph McMahon said the case "from the beginning has been a tragedy"

Jason Van Dyke — wearing a yellow prison jumpsuit, his hair disheveled and beard grown out — sat stoic as a judge sentenced the former Chicago police officer to nearly seven years in prison for the shooting death of black teen Laquan McDonald. 

After eight hours of emotional testimony Friday, including from Van Dyke himself, Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke to 81 months in prison, with two years mandatory before being considered for probation.

"It is just so senseless that these acts occurred," Gaughan said. 

It was a sentencing hearing that captured the attention of the nation, putting an exclamation point on what has been a years-long saga for Chicago.

Van Dyke, who was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated battery in a trial last year, faced anywhere from probation to more than 96 years in prison as both sides spent hours arguing their positions Friday.

In his final plea before his sentence, Van Dyke stood before Gaughan calling the shooting "the worst day of my life." 

"No one wants to take someone's life, even in defense of their own," he said. 

Gaughan, in his decision, ruled that the case fell under the "one act, one crime" doctrine, choosing to only sentence Van Dyke for second-degree murder and not the 16 counts of aggravated battery. 

Van Dyke stared only at the judge as his fate was broadcast to the nation. Just moments after learning his fate, he was whisked out of the packed courtroom. 

His defense team had requested the judge only sentence Van Dyke for second-degree murder, seeking the minimum sentence of probation.

The prosecution argued the "one crime, one act" doctrine would require the judge to sentence Van Dyke on the more serious criminal act, which they believed was aggravated battery. 

Van Dyke was convicted on Oct. 5 of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in the fatal shooting of McDonald. The long-awaited verdict came almost exactly four years after Van Dyke shot 17-year-old McDonald 16 times on the city's Southwest Side.

Dashcam video showing the shooting shook the city and the nation, sparking massive protests and calls for justice.

The Friday hearing saw witnesses who previously filed complaints against Van Dyke testifying that he allegedly made racist remarks to them and used excessive force.

McDonald's great uncle took the stand to read a victim-impact statement to the judge.

"I am unable to speak with my own voice .... because [Jason Van Dyke] decided to become judge, jury and the executioner," the statement read. 

In Van Dyke's defense were fellow officers and family members, including his wife and daughter. 

Seventeen-year-old Kaylee Van Dyke testified that she has been bullied and teased at school as her father's case took on national attention.

"If I do sleep, it’s because I cry myself to sleep wondering why my dad was targeted," she said. "There is not a day that goes by that I am not proud of him. He does not deserve to sit behind bars for protecting the city of Chicago. Bring my dad home please." 

His wife Tiffany Van Dyke begged the judge for mercy on her husband, saying her "life has been a nightmare."

"My biggest fear is that somebody would kill him [in jail], for something that he did as a police officer," she said. "There was no malice, no hatred that night. It was simply a man doing his job."

Through tears, Tiffany Van Dyke said her husband "has paid the ultimate price. His life is over. Please, please. He has paid the price already. ... My heart and soul are broken."

As the hearing came to an end, special prosecutor Joseph McMahon said the case "from the beginning has been a tragedy."

"We know that no sentence will bring back Laquan McDonald or undo the hurt to his family and friends, just like no sentence will fix the concerns of the African-American community in this city, cities like Aurora, cities like Elgin and Rockford and across this country," he said.

Community activists, many of whom called for Van Dyke to be sentenced to 96 years, said they were "heartbroken" and "devastated" by the 81-month sentence.

"We don't agree with the judge's ruling at all," said activist William Calloway, who had fought to get the video of McDonald's shooting released. "We feel that what Jason Van Dyke did when shooting Laquan 16 times, he deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars."

Still, McDonald's family called for calm in the city following the decision.

"I want to say to everyone, everyone in the city of Chicago and across this country, that if they had sentenced him to one minute, it is a victory," Hunter said. "It is a victory because what has happened in this courtroom today has never happened in the history of this country, and it sets a precedent and it sends a strong message to unjust police officers that now you can and will go to jail if you're caught lying, if you're caught breaking the law."

Van Dyke's defense, calling the case "emotionally draining," said they are "happy with the sentence."

"We certainly wanted probation," said attorney Dan Herbert. 

Herbert said Van Dyke "truly felt great" after learning his sentence.

"It was the first time I've seen the guy, honestly since this whole ordeal started, where he was happy," Herbert said. "He's certainly not happy about jail; he's certainly not happy about missing his family. He's happy about the prospect of life ahead of him." 

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