CHICAGO: White former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was sentenced on Friday to nearly seven years in prison for shooting black teen Laquan McDonald to death in 2014 in a landmark case that highlighted racial tensions in America's third-biggest city.
After a jury convicted Van Dyke of second-degree murder last fall, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke to 81 months in prison and said he would have to serve at least two years before he was eligible for parole.
Van Dyke, 40, appearing unshaven and wearing a yellow-orange jail uniform in court, sat expressionless while the sentence was read. He had faced a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison for his second-degree murder conviction and up to 30 years for each of 16 counts of aggravated battery - one count for each shot he fired at 17-year-old McDonald, who was carrying a knife.
In a statement he read before the sentence, Van Dyke called the date of the shooting "the worst day of my life."
"The last thing I wanted to do was shoot Laquan McDonald."
Gaughan did not sentence him for the aggravated battery conviction, explaining second-degree murder was the more serious crime.
In his closing argument, prosecutor Joseph McMahon said between 18 and 20 years was an appropriate sentence and probation requested by the defence was not.
The verdict in October marked the first time an on-duty Chicago police officer was held criminally accountable for the killing of an African-American and touched off celebratory street demonstrations in Chicago.
The jury's verdict followed numerous acquittals or mistrials of police officers facing criminal charges across the country in the deaths of black men.
The hearing came a day after another judge found three of Van Dyke's former police colleagues not guilty of conspiring to protect him after he fatally shot 17-year-old McDonald.
Days of protests erupted in the third-largest U.S. city when a dashboard camera video of the Oct 20, 2014, shooting was released more than a year later in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The video also prompted the dismissal of the city's police superintendent and calls for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign. Emanuel is not running in next month's mayoral election.
Prosecutors showed the video repeatedly during the three-week trial. Jurors said they faulted Van Dyke for escalating the conflict when he could have waited for an officer with a non-lethal Taser weapon.
Police killings of mostly unarmed black men and teens elsewhere in the United States helped fuel the Black Lives Matter movement and were a topic of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
Van Dyke testified in his own defence during his trial, saying he feared for his safety and fired because McDonald was advancing on him. Both the officer and his lawyers argued that the angle of the video did not reflect Van Dyke's perspective.
(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales and Robert Chiarito in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer, Sonya Hepinstall, James Dalgleish and Cynthia Osterman)