A jury has convicted Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Van Dyke sat emotionless as the verdict, which was reached nearly 24 hours after jurors began deliberating, was read in court.
The Chicago police officer was also found guilty of 16 counts of aggravated battery and not guilty of official misconduct. His bond was revoked and he was taken into custody moments later.
Second-degree murder carries a four- to 20-year prison sentence, but can also result in four years of probation instead of prison. Aggravated battery carries a six- to 30-year sentence, 85 percent of which must be served.
The long-awaited verdict comes nearly four years to the date after black teen Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by the white officer. Dashcam video showing the shooting shook the city and the nation, sparking massive protests and calls for justice.
September would have marked McDonald’s 21st birthday.
Van Dyke was charged with six counts of first-degree murder more than a year after he shot the 17-year-old 16 times on the city’s Southwest Side on Oct. 20, 2014. He entered a plea of not guilty.
Heading into his trial, four of the murder counts were dropped against Van Dyke, leaving him with two first-degree murder charges, 16 aggravated battery counts and one count of official misconduct.
In an unexpected announcement, prosecutors revealed in their closing statement to the jury Thursday that a lesser charge of second-degree murder could also be considered.
Van Dyke’s attorneys maintain the Chicago officer was wrongly charged, saying he was acting within the law when he shot the teen, who at the time was an armed felon fleeing a crime scene.
They have vowed to continue fighting the decision.
“We’re relieved that we’re not looking at a death sentence, but we know that we can get even better and perhaps throw everything out,” attorney Dan Herbert said.
Even with second-degree murder on the table, the road to a decision wasn’t easy, jurors said.
“We had a little problem at first but we talked about it,” said juror no. 245.
But one thing was certain – “no acquittal was ever on the table.”
“Even though you’re not an innocent person, you don’t deserve to die – not like that,” juror no. 241 said.
In nearly three weeks of trial, the defense called 20 witnesses, including Van Dyke himself, to make their case that McDonald, a black teenager armed with a knife, posed a threat when Van Dyke, a white officer, opened fire on him.
Prosecutors tried to highlight inconsistencies in Van Dyke’s testimony, particularly in comparison with dashcam video of the shooting released in 2015, which was shown to the jury.
And the jurors agreed- Van Dyke’s testimony only hurt his case.
“His memories and the facts of all the evidence didn’t line up,” said juror no. 250.
During the days-long trial, jurors also saw graphic autopsy images of the more than a dozen gunshot wounds on McDonald’s body, video animation of the shooting from Van Dyke’s point of view and video showing 16 gunshots in 14 seconds.
They heard testimony from several Chicago police officers who responded to the scene that night, witnesses who saw the shooting, experts on use of force and those who knew McDonald in his younger years.
Van Dyke has claimed he opened fire that night to protect himself and other officers.
“He needed to contain the situation not escalate it,” said juror no. 243.
The shooting and subsequent release of the video prompted massive protests across the city and catapulted Chicago into the national spotlight. In the aftermath, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired the city’s police superintendent and voters ousted the Cook County state’s attorney in the following primary election.
The case also sparked an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice that found the Chicago Police Department engaged in systemic violation of civil rights for years. A new consent decree was put into place in September that promised reforms.
As the verdict was read, a crowd gathered outside the courthouse quietly listening to what was happening inside.
As the jury read “guilty of second-degree murder,” cheers erupted and celebratory demonstrations began. Marchers took to the city’s Michigan Avenue in the hours that followed.
“The buck stops here in Chicago. So to our brothers and sisters in New York, LA, Baltimore, Furgeson, Dallas — everywhere across the country where we see these police injustices happening, the buck stops here in Chicago,” said William Calloway, the activist who fought to get video of Laquan McDonald’s shooting released in 2015.
RECAP OF THE TRIAL
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Source: NBC San Diego