CHICAGO (CBS) — With former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke facing a sentencing hearing this week in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, his attorneys have submitted nearly 200 letters from family, friends and fellow officers; asking a judge to give him only probation.
Prosecutors, on the other hand, laid out their case for Van Dyke to go to prison, though they didn’t recommend a specific term behind bars.
On Monday, prosecutors and defense attorneys both submitted their sentencing memos in the case, more than three months after Van Dyke was convicted of one count of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in McDonald’s death.
Defense attorney Daniel Herbert recommended Van Dyke be sentenced to only probation, or at most the minimum six-year sentence for aggravated battery, and continued to blame McDonald for what happened the night of the fatal shooting.
“Mr. McDonald is not blameless in this incident. His PCP-fueled crime spree included a number of offenses, some forcible felonies, such as burglary, attempt murder, aggravated assault, and criminal damage to state supported property. Mr. McDonald set everything in motion on October 20, 2014 as he attempted to flee from a lawful arrest for those offenses and repeatedly refused to comply with lawful police commands to drop the knife,” Herbert wrote.
“Jason’s criminal conduct was induced or facilitated by Mr. McDonald,” he added. “Jason did not instigate this incident, he merely responded to a call for help. As state [sic] above, Mr. McDonald’s own conduct set this incident in motion.”
The defense also submitted nearly 200 letters asking the judge for leniency, including letters from fellow officers, neighbors, friends and Van Dyke’s wife and daughters.
Van Dyke’s 16-year-old daughter told the judge she has been suffering from depression, has regular nightmares and cries herself to sleep because her dad faces the possibility of spending his life in prison. She said she wants Judge Vincent Gaughan to “get to know the real Jason Van Dyke.”
“My dad is like any other regular man out there in this world, but one billion times better. He is my hero, my shoulder to cry on my mentor,” she wrote. “Waking up knowing he isn’t here or when he will come home kills me … it’s time to bring my dad home. It’s time for him to see my sister graduate eighth grade and watch me graduate high school.”
Van Dyke’s wife described him as a “very kind, gentle, soft-spoken man,” and said the family has been punished enough, stating they have been afraid to tell people their names when they go out in public, because of threats against her husband.
“My family has suffered more than I can even put into words. My daughters had their father ripped away from them,” she wrote. “My children do not sleep or eat right. They feel guilty when they are bullied at school and he cannot come to their rescue.”
Van Dyke’s youngest daughter wrote that she is regularly bullied, cannot concentrate at school and has trouble sleeping because of nightmares because of what is happening to her dad.
“My dad is my everything,” she wrote. “I want him to see me grow up and do well in school and make him proud. My dad and my family are really hurting and I think that we have hurt enough. I beg of you to think of my sister and I when you make your decision. I need my dad in my life.”
Defense attorneys also submitted numerous commendations he received from the Police Department as part of their request for leniency.
Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon did not recommend a specific sentence for Van Dyke, but did argue the officer should be sentenced for each of those counts.
Prosecutors rejected the defense’s call for Van Dyke to be sentenced only to probation, noting the aggravated battery charges are more serious felonies than second-degree murder and carry a minimum sentence of six years.
However, McMahon did not argue all of those sentences should be consecutive, noting the judge could order Van Dyke to serve consecutive terms only for the gunshot wounds that caused “severe bodily harm.” He noted, if the judge agrees with the defense that only two shots were fatal, Van Dyke would have to serve at least 18 years – six for the fatal wound to the head, six for the fatal wound to the chest, and six for the other non-fatal shots.
If the judge were to convict Van Dyke to consecutive sentences for all 16 counts of aggravated battery, he would face a minimum of 96 years in prison.
Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Friday, January 18.
While Van Dyke is still employed by the Chicago Police Department, the state revoked his certification as a police officer after his conviction, and the Chicago Police Board is moving forward with the department’s request to fire him.