Ex-Chicago officer gets 10 years for fatal off-duty shooting

In this undated photo provided by the Cook County (Illinois) Sheriff's Office is former Chicago police Officer Lowell Houser. Houser, found guilty of second-degree murder in the off-duty shooting of an unarmed man in 2017 was sentenced Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, to 10 years in prison. (Cook County Sheriff via AP)

CHICAGO (AP) — A former Chicago police officer convicted of murder for fatally shooting an unarmed man in 2017 was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison.

Lowell Houser, 60, sat slumped in a chair between his lawyers as Cook County Judge William Gamboney handed down the sentence. The charges carried a possible sentence of probation or a maximum term of 20 years. Houser will get credit for the nearly three years he spent on an ankle monitor awaiting trial. He is expected to be released from custody in about two years.

Houser was the first Chicago officer to be found guilty of murder since the 2018 conviction of Jason Van Dyke for the shooting death of black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Besides second-degree murder, Van Dyke was convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each bullet the white officer fired at the black teenager.

Speaking during the sentencing hearing, Houser apologized to the family of the victim, Jose Nieves.

“I sincerely send my condolences to the Nieves family,” he said. “Many times I went over in my mind if there was something I could have done to prevent this, but, unfortunately, I can only look at this in hindsight.”

Gamboney said in his 15-page decision that “it was not reasonable to believe that circumstances existed to justify the use of deadly force in this case."

During trial in October, prosecutors said Houser shot the 38-year-old Nieves during an argument outside an apartment complex where the victim lived. But Houser, a 28-year police veteran who was on medical leave for cancer treatment at the time of the shooting, said Nieves made a threatening move and he then acted in self-defense.

“Mr. Houser had a multitude of alternatives during his interaction with Mr. Nieves,” Gamboney said. “We can sit here and debate what he could have done ... but Mr. Houser chose probably the most extreme (option) in that list of circumstances, and as a result, we have a 37-year-old man ... Jose Nieves, who is dead.”