CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s decision day for former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. A Cook County judge will hand down his sentence for the 2014 murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
In October, Van Dyke was convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery, which carry a sentence of 6 to 30 years each; and one count of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 4 to 20 years in prison, or even just probation.
Van Dyke was the first Chicago police officer convicted of murder for an on-duty incident in more than 50 years.
Dashboard camera video of the shooting shows McDonald walking down the street at 40th and Pulaski, holding a knife, before Van Dyke opens fire 16 times, as the teen appears to be moving away from him.
Defense attorneys likely will call Van Dyke’s co-workers and family members to speak about his character, in an effort to convince the judge not to send the former officer to prison.
While prosecutors have not asked for a specific sentence for Van Dyke, their sentencing memorandum suggests the judge could give Van Dyke as little as 18 years behind bars.
Activists are expected to pack the courthouse during Friday’s hearing, hopeful the judge does not let Van Dyke off easy.
“The good thing about our country is this: we have something called freedom to peacefully assemble and protest our government,” said Dr. Leon Finney, a longtime pastor and police reform activist.
Community activists who have followed the case all along the way said they’ll be watching for a significant sentence, and warned of repercussions for anything less.
“I’m a personal believer in a massive economic boycott that shuts the city down,” said Rev. Michael Pfleger.
Van Dyke has been held in the Rock Island County jail since his conviction. It’s possible he will personally address the judge during his sentencing hearing.
Defense attorneys have submitted nearly 200 letters from supporters asking the judge for leniency, including notes from his wife and children.
“Please find it in your heart to consider the punishment already endured by him that will continue for the rest of his life,” she wrote. “There was no malice, no ill intent or hatred on that fateful night when my husband was faced with a split-second decision. He believed he was making the right choice that night.”
Van Dyke’s sentencing comes one day after another Cook County judge acquitted Officer Thomas Gaffney, former Officer Joseph Walsh, and former Detective David March of conspiring to cover up the truth about the shooting to protect Van Dyke.
Legal experts said that verdict should have no bearing on Van Dyke’s sentence.
“What Officer Van Dyke did occurred on the street on Pulaski. What these officers were accused of doing were basically minutes, hours, days, and months after that shooting took place. One has nothing to do with the other,” CBS 2 legal analyst Irv Miller said.
Outside court Thursday, McDonald’s uncle was taking nothing for granted after the three officers were cleared of the conspiracy charges.
“We are looking for a meaningful strong sentence on tomorrow, a sentence that adequately fits the crime in which Jason Van Dyke has committed,” Rev. Marvin Hunter said.
Chicago police have been monitoring social media to prepare for any possible protests that might spring up after Van Dyke’s sentence is announced. Police have said they are expecting demonstrations at the courthouse, and while they do not plan to deploy extra officers, they have asked plainclothes officers who work in the area to be in uniform on Friday to provide a more visible police presence.