UPDATE 3-Illinois attorney general challenges ex-officer's murder sentence

(Adds details from petition, comments from Van Dyke lawyers, background on video of the shooting)

CHICAGO, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and a prosecutor on Monday challenged the sentence of former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke for the murder of a black teenager, questioning whether the judge who imposed it followed the law.

Van Dyke, 40, who is white, was sentenced last month to nearly seven years in prison for second-degree murder in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald in 2014 in a case that highlighted racial tensions in America's third-largest city.

Activists and prosecutors had wanted a longer sentence. Van Dyke could have received up to 20 years in prison for second-degree murder and up to 30 years for each of 16 counts of aggravated battery - one count for each shot he fired at the 17-year-old McDonald, who was carrying a knife.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Gaughan did not sentence Van Dyke for the aggravated battery convictions, explaining that second-degree murder was the more serious crime. Van Dyke is appealing the conviction.

Raoul and Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon, the special prosecutor in the case, filed a petition on Monday asking the Illinois Supreme to review the sentence, arguing that aggravated battery is a more serious offense than second-degree murder under Illinois law.

“This is a question of the law. And it is in the interest of justice that the law be followed no matter who the defendant and no matter who the victim is in a particular case,” Raoul told reporters.

Van Dyke's attorneys Darren O'Brien and Jennifer Blagg said in a statement the petition was politically motivated and "could result in grossly excessive, unjust sentences for defendants that follow in the wake of this request."

The guilty verdict issued by a jury in October marked the first time an on-duty Chicago police officer was convicted for the killing of a black person.

The release of a police dashboard camera video showing McDonald being repeatedly shot, compelled by a lawsuit more than a year after the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting, ignited protests.

The ensuing firestorm over the case prompted the dismissal of the city's police superintendent and calls for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign. Emanuel is not seeking a third term in this month's mayoral election.

The video was shown repeatedly during Van Dyke's three-week trial. Jurors said they faulted Van Dyke for escalating the incident. (Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales and Karen Pierog in Chicago; Writing by Caroline Stauffer Editing by Bill Berkrot)

02/11/2019 15:27

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