Prosecutors seek stiffer sentence for former Chicago police officer who shot boy

The attorney general of Illinois has asked the state's highest court to review what prosecutors consider to be too lenient of a sentence for the white Chicago police officer who fatally shot black teenager Laquan McDonald.

Jason Van Dyke would only serve about 3 years for killing Laquan McDonald in 2014

Family members of Laquan McDonald, including his grandmother, centre, leave the sentencing hearing for former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke on Jan. 18 in Chicago. Van Dyke was sentenced to 81 months in prison for second-degree murder. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Prosecutors on Monday asked Illinois's highest court to review what they consider to be a too-lenient sentence for the white Chicago police officer who fatally shot black teenager Laquan McDonald.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and the special prosecutor who won a murder conviction against former officer Jason Van Dyke, Kane County State's Attorney Joseph McMahon, said they believe Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan improperly applied the law last month when he sentenced Van Dyke to six years and nine months in prison.

In a rare move, Raoul and McMahon filed a request with the Illinois Supreme Court seeking an order that would send the case back to Gaughan for a new sentence.

"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 a news conference.

Monday's court filing was the latest chapter in an ongoing saga that has included massive demonstrations, the firing of the police superintendent by the mayor and the ouster of the county's top prosecutors by voters a few months later. Dashcam video of the shooting released by the city in 2015 showed Van Dyke continued to fire after the 17-year-old McDonald fell to the ground.

Watch an edited version of graphic dashcam video:

Chicago police release a dashcam video that shows an officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times 1:49

The sentence was the first imposed on a Chicago police officer for an on-duty shooting in a half century.

It followed a jury's decision in October to convict the officer of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery — one count for each bullet fired into McDonald.

Van Dyke's attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday but planned to hold a media availability later in the day.

A central issue is an Illinois law that allows a judge to sentence a person for only the most serious crime when he is convicted of multiple crimes for what amounts to a single act. Gaughan determined that second-degree murder was the more serious crime, even though it carries a lighter sentence than aggravated battery — between four and 20 years in prison versus six to 30 years in prison.

Many legal experts say Gaughan was wrong and have pointed to a 2004 Illinois Supreme Court ruling in which a majority of justices concluded that aggravated battery is the more serious charge because it has a higher sentence.

McMahon had sought a sentence of between 18 and 20 years. In his legal arguments, he said Gaughan could have sentenced Van Dyke to 96 years in prison if he found that all 16 bullets caused "serious bodily injury." The defense sought probation.

One of Van Dyke's attorneys, Darren O'Brien, said Monday that prosecutors' contention that the judge should sentence Van Dyke on the aggravated battery charge because it is more serious than second-degree murder doesn't make sense. 

"It's common sense that the lesser harm of getting shot would merge into the greater harm of getting killed," O'Brien said. 

Prosecutors cannot directly appeal a sentence but are seeking what is called a writ of mandamus, which can result in an order from the Illinois Supreme Court telling a judge to adhere to the correct law.

"This is the only way for us to challenge the legality of a sentence," McMahon told reporters Monday.

  "This is the only way for us to challenge the legality of a sentence," McMahon told reporters. 
Absent a new sentence, Van Dyke will likely serve only about three years, with credit for good behaviour.

Van Dyke's attorneys have notified the court of plans to appeal the conviction, but O'Brien declined to discuss what arguments they may make.

Raoul took office in January. In one of his first moves, he announced he would review the sentence Gaughan had handed down just days earlier.

Van Dyke's attorneys have decried the decision to review the sentence as a political stunt.  

Raoul bristled at that suggestion."This is not a political question," he said. "This is a question of law."