Attorneys for Jason Van Dyke say he has “no choice” but to appeal his conviction for killing teenager Laquan McDonald because the prosecutor and Illinois’ attorney general are asking the state Supreme Court to throw out the sentence — a sentence that could allow the officer’s release in about three years.
Van Dyke attorneys Darren O’Brien and Jennifer Blagg released a statement Monday afternoon in response to the Supreme Court petition filed earlier in the day by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and special prosecutor Joe McMahon.
O’Brien and Blagg said the petition threatens to turn the Supreme Court “from a deliberative body into a political battleground” and opens a “Pandora’s box of legal issues that, in the long-term, could result in grossly excessive, unjust sentences for defendants.”
The statement marks a detour from the words of another defense attorney, Dan Herbert. The afternoon after the sentencing, Herbert told reporters his team might not appeal the conviction because Van Dyke, a former Chicago police officer, was “happy” the penalty was not more severe.
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan last month sentenced Van Dyke to 81 months in prison with the possibility of release after half that time, a penalty that many police accountability advocates view as too lenient.
The petition from Raoul and McMahon claims Gaughan erred in basing the sentence on Van Dyke’s second-degree murder conviction instead of his convictions on 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.
Gaughan called that ruling a matter of “common sense” but many legal experts say Illinois law treats the battery counts as more serious than second-degree murder.
At a Monday news conference, Raoul insisted his interest was not how many years in prison Van Dyke must serve.
“I’m not going to opine on … the length of the sentence,” Raoul said. “What I will opine on is whether or not the law should be followed. And I believe the law should be followed.”
The petition from Raoul and McMahon also challenges a Gaughan statement during sentencing that the 16 battery counts, if considered for Van Dyke’s penalty, “would all merge” into a single act.
If the Supreme Court ordered those counts to be sentenced separately, Van Dyke could end up with a much longer prison term.
McDonald, 17, was carrying a knife and walking away from officers the night of Oct. 20, 2014 when Van Dyke shot him. A police dashcam video contradicted reports by officers that McDonald was attacking Van Dyke.
The case drew international publicity and led to a federal court-enforced agreement intended to overhaul Chicago policing.
A Cook County judge last month acquitted three officers of charges they conspired to cover up for Van Dyke.