MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
To Chicago now and news of the sentencing of former police officer Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke got nearly seven years in prison for killing black teenager Laquan McDonald. Here's Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan.
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VINCENT GAUGHAN: This is a tragedy for both sides. So this is not easy, and I don't expect it to be easy. I - my findings are an appropriate sentence would be 81 months in the Illinois Department of Corrections, two years mandatory supervised release.
KELLY: NPR's Cheryl Corley joins me now from outside that courtroom in Chicago. Hey, Cheryl.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Hi. How are you?
KELLY: Hi. I'm all right, thanks. So to remind, a jury convicted Van Dyke last fall, and what he was convicted of was second-degree murder, 16 counts of aggravated battery. That judge could have sentenced him to anything from probation to life in prison. What was the reaction there in the courtroom to this sentence of six years, nine months?
CORLEY: Well, you know, it depends really on who you are. I mean, the Van Dyke family I think was relieved because Jason Van Dyke could...
KELLY: It could have been worse.
CORLEY: Yeah, it could have been a lot worse. It could have been almost life in prison, a sentence that ranged from probation to almost 96 years. And he ended up with, you know, nearly seven.
CORLEY: But I think a lot of other people were disappointed, that they thought that it did a disservice to what happened to Laquan McDonald. So that's how it played out. So you had disappointment on one side and kind of relief on the other side of the courtroom.
KELLY: Cheryl, I want to hear more about what happened in that courtroom today, but remind us just briefly of the facts of this case.
CORLEY: Well, Jason Van Dyke was one of the last officers to come on a scene where people were trying to get Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black kid, to put down a knife as he was walking down a street in Chicago's Southwest Side. People had called for help. He had slashed some tires of a truck, and he was being followed by a number of officers who were waiting for a Taser. Van Dyke and his partner - they came on the scene, and Van Dyke got out of his car, and within seconds, he shot McDonald, and he shot him 16 times. And originally the officer said that McDonald had tried to attack officers with a knife. That didn't prove to be true. That was shown on a dash cam video that was released about a year later that contradicted the story that police gave at the time.
This case really caused massive protests in the city then. It caused the ouster of the Chicago Police superintendent, the Cook County state's attorney. So people have really been keeping a close eye on what has happened with this case that's been going on for more than four years now.
KELLY: And this sentencing decision came out a little bit later than we were expecting today. I gather that was in part because so many people were in the courtroom making statements, hoping to influence the judge one way or the other. What were you hearing?
CORLEY: Well, absolutely. You had - for Van Dyke, there were a number of retired police officers who came and spoke on his behalf. His family spoke on his behalf. And Van Dyke also spoke. The former head of the police union, Dean Angelo, said that Van Dyke was not the monster that people had made him out to be in the media and in political circles. He called him a big gentle kid, a hard worker and a good dad. He called this whole event that happened in 2014 a perfect storm, and he said he knew that the murder wasn't something that Van Dyke had set out to do.
It was interesting, too, because Van Dyke's brother in law, who is a black man, spoke on his behalf and also said Van Dyke was not racist. And of course there were statements by people who spoke against Van Dyke. Marvin Hunter, Laquan McDonald's great-uncle, who read a letter that he said was in the voice of his nephew - he said he wanted the judge to know he hopes that no other black man or woman would have to face the evil of Jason Van Dyke.
KELLY: You mentioned that this is a case that people in Chicago have followed very closely. There have been protests. I know the sentencing has just come down, so it's early hours yet. But what kind of reaction are you looking for in Chicago?
CORLEY: Well, you know, it's interesting because I don't think that - when the verdict was going to be announced, there was all this preparation here because they thought that there was going to be, you know, a lot of emotional outbursts.
CORLEY: But that hasn't happened here. People have called for calm, and so far, that's what we're seeing.
KELLY: That's NPR's Cheryl Corley reporting from the courthouse in Chicago where Jason Van Dyke has just been sentenced. Thank you, Cheryl.
CORLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.