Prosecutor Talks With Illinois Attorney General About Challenging Jason Van Dyke’s Sentence

Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon (left) on Feb. 4 spoke via phone for 45 minutes with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul about possibilities for challenging the prison sentence of the former Chicago police officer convicted of murder in Laquan McDonald’s killing — a sentence criticized by police-accountability advocates as too lenient.
Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon (left) on Feb. 4 spoke via phone for 45 minutes with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul about possibilities for challenging the prison sentence of the former Chicago police officer convicted of murder in Laquan McDonald’s killing — a sentence criticized by police-accountability advocates as too lenient. Antonio Perez (Chicago Tribune pool) / Jason Marck (WBEZ)
Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon (left) on Feb. 4 spoke via phone for 45 minutes with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul about possibilities for challenging the prison sentence of the former Chicago police officer convicted of murder in Laquan McDonald’s killing — a sentence criticized by police-accountability advocates as too lenient.
Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon (left) on Feb. 4 spoke via phone for 45 minutes with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul about possibilities for challenging the prison sentence of the former Chicago police officer convicted of murder in Laquan McDonald’s killing — a sentence criticized by police-accountability advocates as too lenient. Antonio Perez (Chicago Tribune pool) / Jason Marck (WBEZ)

Prosecutor Talks With Illinois Attorney General About Challenging Jason Van Dyke’s Sentence

Updated 7:35 p.m.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon had what they say was a “productive” phone call on Monday about possibilities for challenging the sentence of Jason Van Dyke, the former Chicago police officer convicted of murder in Laquan McDonald’s killing.

The sentence, handed down last month, would allow Van Dyke’s release from prison in as few as three years. Police accountability advocates have characterized that penalty as far too lenient.

Raoul and McMahon “are both continuing their review and will make a decision on next steps once they have finished their review,” the attorney general’s spokeswoman Annie Thompson said after the call.

Chris Nelson, a McMahon spokesman, said the call lasted 45 minutes and was the first conversation about the case between the attorney general and special prosecutor.

An option previously raised by McMahon is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to overturn the sentencing.

McMahon’s office said the special prosecutor will decide on his next steps by March 1.

Both offices declined to comment further about Monday’s call.

Raoul, a Democrat and former state lawmaker, took office as attorney general last month after an election campaign based largely on promises of criminal justice reform.

McMahon, a Republican, serves as state’s attorney of Kane County, west of Chicago. In 2017, he publically flirted with the idea of running in his party’s primary for attorney general. He ended up instead endorsing Urbana attorney Erika Harold, who went on to lose against Raoul last fall.

Van Dyke was convicted in October of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, one for each shot into McDonald.

Last month, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke to 81 months in prison with the possibility of release after he serves half that time.

Some legal experts say Gaughan may have erred in basing the sentence on the second-degree murder count, which carries lighter penalties than the battery counts.

McMahon, at a Chicago taping of an NPR podcast on Friday, said he lacked authority as a prosecutor to appeal Gaughan’s discretionary rulings in sentencing but could seek a state Supreme Court order known as a “writ of mandamus.”

“The argument would be … that the judge was required by law to sentence him on the aggravated battery counts,” McMahon said, “and by only sentencing him on the second-degree murder count he disregarded a mandatory sentencing provision.”

Van Dyke shot McDonald, 17, in 2014 as the teen carried a knife and walked away from officers. 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 reshape Chicago police training and tactics.

A Cook County judge last month acquitted three officers of charges they conspired to cover up for Van Dyke.

Van Dyke’s attorney, Dan Herbert, has blasted the possibility of asking the Supreme Court to throw out his client’s sentence, saying Gaughan “carefully considered the arguments made and issued the correct ruling under the law.”

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.