Chicago cop who shot black teen Laquan McDonald 16 times sentenced to nearly 7 years

Chicago cop who shot black teen Laquan McDonald 16 times sentenced to nearly 7 years
Jason Van Dyke, former Chicago police officer found guilty in the fatal shooting of a black teenager in 2014, has been sentenced to 81 months in prison in a case that sparked nationwide protests and reignited racial debate.

The much-awaited sentencing in Van Dyke's case took place Friday, three months after the disgraced police officer was found guilty of second-degree murder and of 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each of 16 bullets that ripped through 17-year-old Laquan McDonald's body on October 20, 2014.

Judge Vincent Gaughan decided to sentence Van Dyke on murder charges, which carry lighter punishment, arguing that the crime of murder is "more serious" than that of battery.

The verdict is unlikely to satisfy the prosecution, who initially demanded 96 years behind bars for Van Dyke, which translates to six years for each battery charge. Ahead of the sentencing on Friday, prosecution asked for a sentence between 18 and 20 years.

However, the court appeared to side with the defense, which cited the "one crime, one act" principle. Under the Illinois law, a defendant can be convicted of one crime for any physical act or crime.

A lawyer for Van Dyke pushed for probation instead of an actual prison term. However, that outcome was considered to be unlikely due to the circumstances of the incident and the extensive media coverage the case has received through the years, sparking protests across the city when the dashcam footage of the incident was released in November 2015. The video shows McDonald holding a small folding knife and disobeying Van Dyke's command to drop it. Dyke subsequently shot the teenager 16 times in the span of 13 seconds, with two of the shots later found to be lethal.

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During the trial, Van Dyke argued for his innocence, insisting that he acted in self-defense.

Speaking in the court on Friday, he doubled down on the argument that he used lethal force, which many consider more than excessive, to protect his life.

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"No one wants to take someone's life, even in defense of their own," Van Dyke said, before adding that he prays for the teenager's soul in prison.

Prosecutor Joseph McMahon argued that Van Dyke's conduct in 2016 has been "devastating" not only to the victim's family and the African-American community, but also brought the Chicago Police Department into disrepute.

McMahon said that he was disappointed with the verdict, noting that "this sentence is not everything" the family of the slain teenager was hoping for. "But this sentence, like the verdict on Oct. 5, does hold this defendant accountable," he said.

McDonald's murder triggered a 13-month federal investigation into the Chicago Police Department that found that police officers often used force without adequate justification. The report filed in January 2017 found that officers routinely tasered suspects who posed no threat, shot at vehicles and abused force when retaliating against people.

Since then, the city police department signed a consent decree agreeing to minimize the use of lethal force and cracked down on illegal guns. However, it did not change Chicago’s status of ‘murder capital’, with its homicide rate remaining one of the nation's worst despite a drop from 650 to 550 last year.

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