Chicago, IL – The Illinois Supreme Court has rejected prosecutors’ requests to re-sentence former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke in the shooting death of a PCP-fueled teen armed with a knife.
Van Dyke was convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery and second-degree murder on Oct. 5, 2018, for the 2014 death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
He was subsequently sentenced to six years and nine months in prison.
In February, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon filed a writ of mandamus with the Illinois Supreme Court, claiming that Van Dyke should have been sentenced based “on all sixteen aggravated battery convictions,” instead of second-degree murder, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
McMahon had originally asked the lower court to sentence Van Dyke to 18 to 20 years.
If the State Supreme Court had sided with the prosecutors, he could have been sentenced to an even lengthier prison term.
"This is the first step in asking the court to declare that the trial court improperly sentenced Jason Van Dyke for the murder and aggravated battery of Laquan McDonald and to order a new sentencing hearing,” Raoul said at the time, according to WBBM.
In a 4-to-2 vote on March 19, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Van Dyke will not be resentenced, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The two dissenting justices were the only ones who provided reasons for why they voted the way they did.
“I do believe this is a case that certainly the public wants to understand,” Raoul told reporters. “I think the public expects our Constitution and our laws to be applied, and the lack of explanation [from the court] leaves us questioning” how they arrived at their conclusion.
Criminal defense attorney Mark Lyon said it is not unusual for the Supreme Court to issue orders without justifying their positions, but said it may have helped the public to better understand the outcome of the high-profile case.
“It's better for the court when they’re dealing with a circumstance such as this one where there’s a great deal of public emotion, public feeling, to try to give people some sense that they’re not being arbitrary," Lyon said.
"I'm not saying they did do it off the cuff or glibly, [but] when you issue a very short denial with no real discussion of why you did that, I think especially nonlawyers…may think that you just don’t care,” he added.
Daniel Herbert, the former officer’s lead trial attorney, said he hopes the court’s decision “will strike a fatal blow to the political exploitation of the death of Laquan McDonald,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
“Our judicial system may not be perfect,” Herbert said in a statement. “However, the bedrock of the system maintains that all defendants, including unpopular ones, are entitled to fair and impartial treatment. Jason Van Dyke is prepared to serve his debt to society and move on with his life in a meaningful and productive manner."
Trial jury forewoman Kathy Supplitt said she believes the Supreme Court made the correct decision in Van Dyke’s case.
“The activists were calling for 96 years to ‘send a message’ to CPD,” Supplitt told the Chicago Tribune. “That would make [Van Dyke] a scapegoat for all the sins of the past. We all promised we would be fair and impartial, and to me that meant we were considering the evidence we heard during the trial only.”
Van Dyke is currently serving his sentence in a medium-security prison in Otisville, New York, according to WGN.
"He was led like a lamb to the slaughter," one of his attorneys, Tammy Wendt, said during a press conference.
“We are all petrified and in fear for Jason’s life,” his wife, Tiffany Van Dyke, told the Chicago Sun Times after the assault. “Jason just wants to serve his sentence. He does not want any trouble. I hope prison officials will take steps to rectify this right away. He never should have been in the general population.”
"We are done being hurt," Tiffany said. "He is a police officer who was convicted for doing his job...I’m standing up for my husband right now, because he can’t fight anymore."
Herbert noted that Van Dyke has a right to "be safe in prison," and that elected officials and the prison system have a responsibility to ensure his safety.
"The mentality out there seems to be that people won't rest until he's given a life sentence or killed in prison," Herbert said during the press conference.
"It's become a situation where law enforcement is that second-class citizen," he continued. "If the outcry from the public is loud enough, the rights of individuals - especially law enforcement - seems to be secondary to that."
Van Dyke will be eligible for parole in three years, WBBM reported.
According to prison records, his current prison release date is slated for Feb. 8, 2022, according to WGN.
The fatal shooting occurred at about 9:45 p.m. on Oct. 20, 2014, when Chicago police responded to a report of a teenager breaking into vehicles in the 4000-block of South Karlov Avenue, Fraternal Order of Police Spokesman Pat Camden told WLS at the time.
The suspect, later identified as McDonald, slashed the front passenger tire of a patrol SUV, damaged the vehicle’s windshield, and took off on foot, police said.
Officers intercepted the armed suspect in the 4100-block of South Pulaski Road and ordered him to drop the knife, but he refused.
According to the Chicago Tribune, police said McDonald was under the influence of PCP at the time of the incident.
During the trial, Herbert said that the incident was "a tragedy that could have been prevented with one simple step," the Chicago Tribune reported.
Herbert then dropped the knife McDonald had been carrying that night onto the courtroom floor.
"At any point throughout that 20-something minute rampage, had Laquan McDonald dropped the knife, he'd be here today," Herbert declared.
Dashcam footage showed McDonald as he jogged down the middle of the roadway towards a police cruiser.
He then walked around the first patrol car and veered into the traffic lane, as officers moved towards his left side, the video showed.
During the trial, Officer Van Dyke’s partner, Officer Walsh, reenacted how McDonald swung the three-inch blade behind his back and up to shoulder-height just before he was shot, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Officer Walsh was in close proximity to Officer Van Dyke during the incident, and testified that McDonald posed a risk to their safety and that they had a reason to be afraid, the Chicago Tribune reported.
"At 9:57:36, McDonald has crossed over the white lane divider away from the officers, and Officer Van Dyke has taken at least one step towards McDonald with his weapon drawn," Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said in November of 2015, after Officer Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, according to WLS.
"[Officer Van Dyke] then opened fire on Laquan, whose arm jerks, his body spins around and he falls to the ground,” Alvarez said. “While Laquan is falling to the ground the defendant takes at least one more step towards him.”
At that point, the patrol car where the dashcam was mounted moved to the right, cutting Officer Van Dyke out of the frame.
“Two seconds later, Laquan McDonald is lying on the street on his right side, and the video captures what appears to be two puffs of smoke coming from the ground near his body,” Alvarez said, according to WLS. “These puffs of smoke were later identified as clouds of debris caused by the fired bullets.”
“At 9:57:51, McDonald is still lying on the street and the last visible shot is fired,” she said.
According to prosecutors, Officer Van Dyke was beginning to load another magazine into his duty weapon - as he was trained to do - when his partner told him to cease fire.
The second officer then walked toward McDonald, and kicked his knife out of reach.
An autopsy revealed that McDonald was shot in the back of his arms, his right leg, and multiple times in the chest, WLS reported.
He was shot 16 times, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“Of the eight officers on the scene, it was only the defendant who fired his weapon,” Alvarez said. “[Officer Van Dyke acted] without legal justification and with the intent to kill or do great bodily harm” when he fired the fatal rounds.
Herbert argued that his client was forced to make a “split-second” decision in a dangerous, fluid situation.
"The judgement made by individuals that view this tape from the comfort of their living room on their sofa, it's not the same standard as the perspective from my client,” Herbert told WLS. “People viewing this video tape will have the brilliance and benefits of hindsight, 20/20 vision."
Prosecutors argued that Officer Van Dyke should have used less-lethal means to stop the armed teen, and said he could have waited for another officer to arrive with a Taser or used his vehicle to gently tap him, the Chicago Tribune reported.