Chicago: Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and special prosecutor Joseph McMahon said Monday they are petitioning the state’s supreme court to order the re-sentencing of Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald.
Van Dyke was sentenced last month to six years and nine months in prison for the murder of the black teen in 2014. But McDonald’s family and civil rights activists said the sentence was too lenient.
Van Dyke was convicted last year of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.
“After conducting a thorough review of the record in this case and the law, and in consultation with the special prosecutor, I determined that a mandamus action must be pursued in the Illinois Supreme Court,” Raoul said at a news conference.
McDonald’s great uncle and several civil rights groups wrote to prosecutors last month to argue the sentencing violated the state’s “one act, one crime” law.
Under the statute, they said, if a person is convicted of multiple offenses resulting from a single act, the court can impose a sentence only for the most serious offense.
Judge Vincent Gaughan ruled that Van Dyke’s second-degree murder conviction was more serious than aggravated battery convictions. But the state treats aggravated battery with a firearm as a more serious offense.
“Illinois law required Judge Gaughan to impose sentence on the aggravated battery convictions, not the second-degree murder conviction,” McDonald’s great uncle Marvin Hunter and the civil rights groups wrote to Raoul and McMahon.
Van Dyke had expressed a measure of relief following his sentencing that he would return to his family in a matter of years, his defense team said. After Raoul’s move Monday, his attorneys said they would seek to appeal the conviction.
Darren O’Brien and Jennifer Blagg, defense attorneys for Van Dyke, said in a joint statement that the petition for re-sentencing was transforming “the Illinois Supreme Court from a deliberative body into a political battleground.”
“The filing also opens up a Pandora’s box of legal issues that, in the long term, could result in grossly excessive, unjust sentences for defendants that follow in the wake of this request,” the statement said. “The Attorney General’s and Special Prosecutor’s filing today leaves Mr. Van Dyke with no choice but to appeal his conviction, prolonging this tragic case for both his family and the McDonald family.”
Raoul said politics did not motivate his decision to seek a new sentencing.
“That is not a political question,” Raoul said. “It is a question of law.”
Hunter and the activists argue that state statute requires the imposition of consecutive sentences for aggravated battery convictions.
At trial, medical experts testified that no fewer than two of the shots were necessary to cause his death. As a result, Hunter and the activists argued, two of the aggravated battery counts must be imposed as consecutive sentences.
Prosecutors had asked Gaughan to sentence Van Dyke to 18 to 20 years. His defense team had asked that he be released on probation.
Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke to 81 months, or six years and nine months. State law requires that he serve at least 50 percent of the sentence. He served some three months as he awaited sentencing, so he could be out of prison in little more than three years.
“It is important that a police officer was held accountable for criminal conduct,” McMahon said. “But we argued at the sentencing hearing that Jason Van Dyke should be sentenced for the aggravated-battery-with-a-firearm convictions. The ability for the prosecution to challenge a sentence is very narrow, but this might be one of those situations.”
There is no deadline for the Illinois high court to decide whether to consider the petition.
Police were called to a parking lot on the Southwest Side of Chicago on the evening of Oct. 20, 2014, on reports of a person breaking into trucks and stealing radios.
Officers arrived to find the 17-year-old McDonald walking erratically in the street with a small knife.
Van Dyke pulled up to the scene, got out of his squad car and within seconds opened fire. He shot the teen 16 times. The shooting was captured on police dashcam video.
The City of Chicago didn’t release the video until it was forced by court order. On the day of the release, 400 days after the shooting, Van Dyke was charged with murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct.
The killing of the black teen by the white police officer sparked public outrage and political tumult in the nation’s third-largest city.