CHICAGO – A Chicago police officer was convicted on Friday of second-degree murder for the fatal shooting of a black teenager in 2014.
Prosecutors had charged officer Jason Van Dyke with murder in the first degree in the death of Laquan McDonald, 17, but jurors ultimately decided in favor of the lesser charge.
Van Dyke was found guilty of two counts of second-degree homicide and 16 counts of aggravated battery – one for each of the shots he fired at McDonald.
During the three weeks of the trial, the defense maintained that the officer feared for his life and opened fire in response to the threat he saw in McDonald, who was carrying a knife when he was stopped by several officers in the street.
Homicide in the second degree is punishable with a sentence from probation to 20 years in prison.
Each of the 16 charges of aggravated battery carries a sentence of from six to 30 years behind bars.
The 12-person jury deliberated for a total of seven hours.
Before reading the verdict, Judge Vincent Gaughan asked those attending the hearing to “control your emotion,” a request similar to the remark to the whole city by Cardinal Archbishop Blase Cupich.
And so it happened, at the moment of reading the sentence, Van Dyke appeared unfazed, though his wife Tiffany began to cry, as did the victim’s family.
Meanwhile, celebrations for the verdict began outside the court, as did demands for the resignation of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who announced a few weeks ago that he would not seek a third term.
Van Dyke was charged following the release in November 2015 of a video documenting the Oct. 21, 2014 incident.
While police originally reported that McDonald, who was armed with a knife, was threatening officers, the dashcam video from one of the police cars shows he was walking away from the cops when the first shot was fired, and that Van Dyke continued to shoot after the suspect was lying on the pavement.
The police and district attorney’s office refused to release the dashcam video until compelled by a court order. Emanuel fired the then-police chief amid the uproar, denying accusations that his administration aided in the coverup.
Political analysts point to the McDonald case as the main reason Emanuel will not seek reelection.