To say that the sentence handed down to former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke for the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was an insult would be putting it mildly. Van Dyke should have been put under the jail for his hateful crime. Giving him 6 years and 9 months for his crime was a slap in the face for everyone and left many crying for more justice.
Sometimes justice shows up in ways we did not imagine it would, and in the case of Van Dyke, we got a little bit of karmic justice and a possibility at real justice on the way.
The Chicago Tribune reports that Van Dyke was transferred from Illinois to the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution in Connecticut last week. Within hours of his arrival at the facility, he was beaten in his cell. A source told the Tribune that Van Dyke has received more threats since that reported beating.
Life comes at you fast.
Van Dyke had previously been held in isolation at an Illinois prison where there were no threats or other incidents against him. At Danbury, however, he was placed in general population.
Van Dyke’s family and attorneys were not told about the transfer until after it happened, and in an email statement, his wife expressed her concerns for her husband.
“We are petrified and very worried about Jason’s safety,” Tiffany Van Dyke wrote. “Jason wants to serve his time and does not want any trouble. We are hoping prison officials will take quick action to rectify this situation.”
In other words “please protect my husband. I know he did murder to a child, but he shouldn’t have to suffer for it!”
In the meantime, the Illinois state attorney general and the special prosecutors handling Van Dyke’s case are seeking justice in another way.
On Monday, they petitioned the state Supreme Court to order a resentencing in Van Dyke’s cause—which could lead to a much harsher sentence for Van Dyke if the court agrees.
As the Tribune reports, Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon—who appointed to handle the Van Dyke case—and Attorney General Kwame Raoul did not target the length of the 81 month sentence Van Dyke was given. Instead, they argued that Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke under improper legal guidelines, and they pointed out that a significantly longer sentence would be justifiable under state law.
It would also be suitable under, you know, justice. There are black drug dealers who have gotten longer sentences than Jason Van Dyke got for the murder of a black teenager who was not a threat to him or his safety.
At a news conference Monday, Raoul said “I recognize that a trial judge’s discretion in sentencing is to be given great deference. However, it is in the interest of justice that we do all within our power to make sure that such exercise in discretion be applied consistent with the mandates of law, no matter who the defendant and no matter who the victim.”
Jennifer Blagg, one of the attorneys representing Van Dyke, said he is being made the scapegoat for the entire Chicago Police Department.
“This case has come to represent all the wrongs, perceived wrongs, of the Chicago Police Department, and it’s fallen upon Jason Van Dyke as a person,” Blagg said. “So what he represents politically is why this is happening.”
In the wake of his light sentence, Van Dyke’s defense team had initially backed off the idea of appealing his conviction. Now that prosecutors are seeking a longer sentence, Blagg said they are forcing the defense’s hand. On Friday, defense attorneys filed a notice of appeal.
“Jason and his family very much want to put this behind them,” Blagg said. “He has expressed that he doesn’t want a new trial, he doesn’t want to go through that again. He’s not happy with being convicted, obviously, but the toll this has taken on his family is unbelievable.”
In October, the 40-year-old Van Dyke was convicted of one count of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery—one count for each of the bullets he fired into McDonald’s body
He was sentenced to 81 months in prison last month.
When Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke, he did so on the second-degree murder charge alone, saying the 16 aggravated battery charges should “merge” into the second-degree murder sentence.
Before imposing the sentence, Gaughan asked “Is it more serious for Laquan McDonald to be shot by a firearm or is it more serious for Laquan McDonald to be murdered by a firearm?
“Common sense comes to an easy answer on that in this specific case,” he added.
In their petition, prosecutors argued that aggravated battery with a firearm is the more serious charge under Illinois law, and therefore Van Dyke should be re-sentenced under those convictions.
They also said Gaughan should be directed to determine which of the 16 gunshot wounds caused “severe bodily injury” to McDonald and sentence Van Dyke to consecutive terms for those counts.
According to the Tribune, aggravated battery with a firearm carries a sentence of six to 30 years in prison, whereas a second-degree murder conviction carries a sentence of four to 20 years—which can be reduced to probation at a judge’s discretion.
Longtime criminal defense attorney Mark Lyon told the Tribune, “It’s quite unlikely that Mr. Van Dyke comes out of this without some kind of upward modification of his sentence. How much, who knows.”