Hours of testimony at Jason Van Dyke’s sentencing on Friday ended in shock for one family, and relief and happiness for the other.
Van Dyke’s family had pleaded for leniency and his lawyers submitted letters from supporters and from one of his daughters, who said she fell into depression after the verdict. In October, the police officer was convicted of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each bullet he fired at Laquan McDonald.
“It’s time for him to hug and kiss his wife and protect his family,” Van Dyke’s daughter, who is in high school, wrote to Judge Vincent Gaughan. “Bring my dad home.”
Laquan’s great-uncle, the Rev. Marvin Hunter, read a statement in court written from his nephew’s perspective: “Please think about me and about my life when you sentence this person to prison. Why should this person who has ended my life forever because he chose to become judge, jury and executioner and has never asked for forgiveness be free when I am dead”
Judge Vincent Gaughan said: “This is a tragedy for both sides. This is not pleasant, and this is not easy.”
Gaughan only sentenced Van Dyke to less than seven years in prison. He could have been sentenced to up to 96 years. All three officers who allegedly conspired to cover up the murder were acquitted.
A report on sentencing disparities from the United States Sentencing Commission found that Black men who commit the same crimes as white men receive federal prison sentences that are, on average, almost 20 percent longer.
“The Black/white sentencing disparities are being driven in large part by ‘non-government sponsored departures and variances’ in plain English, sentencing choices made by judges at their own discretion,” The Washington Post reported.
Black Lives Matter members protested the outcome of the hearing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“They lock us up, they shoot us down. Ain’t no justice in this town!” Black Lives Matters demonstrators shouted as they paraded south through Washington Park in sub-20-degree temperatures.
Laquan’s great-uncle said, while a police officer going to prison for murder was a step in the right direction, the sentencing reduced his nephew, a teenager just like Van Dyke’s teen daughter, to a “second class citizen.”
The light sentence “suggests to us that there are no laws on the books for a Black man that a white man is bound to honor,” said Hunter.”
“It wasn’t the knife in Laquan’s hand that made the defendant kill him that night,” a prosecutor, Jody Gleason, said during closing arguments. “It was his indifference to the value of Laquan’s life.
Joseph McMahon, the special prosecutor, said justice was served for Van Dyke and that the “system worked.”
Van Dyke’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, said of Van Dyke: “He truly felt great. He was not just relieved, he was happy. It’s the first time I’ve seen the guy honestly since this whole ordeal started where he was happy. He’s certainly not happy about going to jail. He’s certainly not happy about missing his family. But he’s happy about the prospect of life ahead of him.”
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