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Gay Van Dyke juror talks ex-officer's sentencing
by Matt Simonette
2019-02-11

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Will Harpest—a gay man who this past fall sat on the jury that convicted Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke of the 2014 shooting of Chicagoan Laquan McDonald—had a complicated reaction to Van Dyke's January sentencing.

Van Dyke was sentenced on Jan. 19 to six years and nine months by Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan for his second-degree murder conviction. Additional aggravated battery charges could eventually yield further time in prison, but many Chicagoans and others across the country felt that Van Dyke was given to light a sentence.

Harpest said that he was not troubled so much by the sentence itself, but by Van Dyke's demeanor and regard for the situation.

Shortly after his jury service, Harpest told Windy City Times how impressed he was with Gaughan's conduct of the courtroom, especially what Harpest recalled was very thoughtful engagement with the jury: "He sat down with us after it was over, and asked us if we had any questions. He then made the comment that, 'Whoever put together this jury system that works this way should be in heaven. Because it works—you have 12 diverse people from all around Cook County coming to a decision like this."

After Van Dyke's sentencing was handed down, Harpest said, "I think the judge honored the verdict that the jury issued; I think the convicted did not."

Gaughan, in Harpest's opinion, issued a sentence that conveyed to Van Dyke, "It's not going to be just probation. It's going to be at least three years [with good behavior]. Under his circumstances, it's going to be solitary confinement, and his life is going to be really awful. I think the judge must have taken that into consideration."

Harpest said that he nevertheless understood why others in the community would have wished for the sentence to be harsher.

He added, "My greatest disappointment is that all that the defense attorneys and the convicted did was be defensive. There was never any effort of reconciliation, never any asking of forgiveness. There was nothing more than 'I pray for his soul every day.' That doesn't go very far at all. The convicted did not express any deep-felt awfulness or shame about what happened."

Harpest said that Van Dyke's defense team didn't respect the jury's decision and that, "They just felt that they'd been wronged by the political atmosphere at the time. That brings me sadness and disappointment."

That lack of contrition, he added justifiably adds to anger in the community about the case and its implications: "There was was disregard for the seriousness of the crime on the part of the convicted and his attorneys."


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