Illinois attorney general challenges sentence for officer

CHICAGO — Prosecutors in Illinois are challenging the prison sentence of Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer convicted last year of killing Laquan McDonald, whose death galvanized the city and forced an overhaul of the Police Department.

In a petition filed Monday, Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Joseph McMahon, the special prosecutor in Van Dyke’s trial, asked the Illinois Supreme Court to review whether the sentence was proper under the law. Last month, Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke to less than seven years in prison for second-degree murder, a term that many people in Chicago complained was too lenient.

“This is a question of whether the law was followed and whether a sentence was rendered on the appropriate charges,” Raoul, a Democrat who took office last month, said at a news conference Monday, adding: “That is not a political question. That is a question of law.”

At issue is whether Van Dyke, who was also convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm for each of the 16 shots he fired, should be sentenced for the aggravated batteries, which could result in a significantly longer prison term. Under his current sentence, exclusively for the second-degree murder conviction, he could be released from prison in as few as three years.

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Gaughan ruled that he issued a sentence only on the second-degree murder charge because it was more serious than the aggravated battery counts.

The prosecutors’ petition asks the Supreme Court to vacate Van Dyke’s sentence for second-degree murder and impose a sentence on each of the 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.

Prosecutors had originally asked the judge to issue a sentence of at least 18 years in prison.

After the sentence was issued last month, McMahon, the special prosecutor, had appeared to be satisfied, saying at the time that “justice was served for Jason Van Dyke.”

“It strikes a balance between holding Jason Van Dyke accountable and also recognizing his service as a police officer,” he said.

On Monday, McMahon said that he has had “the benefit of some time” in considering whether to challenge the sentence.

“I think the bigger message in this case is to make sure that the sentence that is imposed is a sentence that is lawful,” he said.

McMahon said that this was the only legal avenue to challenge the legality of the sentence. He added that he believed that McDonald’s family was supportive of the prosecutors’ efforts.

“Whatever the outcome, she would like this process to be over,” he said of McDonald’s mother, Tina Hunter.

Van Dyke shot and killed McDonald in October 2014 on the southwest side of Chicago as the teenager walked down the street, carrying a pocketknife and ignoring officers’ orders to stop. A grainy video of McDonald’s death, recorded from the dashboard of a police car, was eventually released to the public, setting off widespread condemnation and protests.

Van Dyke was the first Chicago police officer in almost 50 years to be convicted of murder.

There is no deadline for the Supreme Court to decide whether to consider the petition. If it agrees to consider the petition, Van Dyke’s lawyers will have one week to file an objection. His lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.

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