Protesters gather in the streets following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Gayatri Malhotra via Unsplash
On April 20, a Minnesota jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on three felony charges in the death of George Floyd last year: Second-degree unintentional felony murder, third-degree murder “perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life” and second-degree manslaughter. The jury of seven women and five men reached the unanimous verdict after approximately 10 hours of deliberation.
Chauvin faces up to 75 years in prison when the trial’s sentencing phase begins in eight weeks for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes on May 25, 2020, causing his death from asphyxiation, according to an independent autopsy. Floyd cried out, “I can’t breathe,” 28 times during the incident. The Hennepin County medical examiner determined that Floyd died of cardiopulmonary arrest.
“Please, please, please, I can’t breathe,” Floyd begged in one video caught by a bystander. “My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Please, please. I can’t breathe.”
A video from a bystander caught the entire event on his cellphone camera. Other videos were shown to the jury during the three-week trial from police body cameras and dashcams, a security camera from the store where Floyd allegedly tried to pass a $20 counterfeit bill, and a city camera across the street.
Derek Chauvin, ex-police officer, is charged with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. Minnesota Department of Corrections
The city of Minneapolis ramped up security for the televised trial, which began on March 29, with the jurors were shown a video of the last moments of Floyd’s death. Opening statements from the prosecuting attorney were then delivered.
“Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd,” prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell said in his opening remarks. “That he put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him until the very breath — no, ladies and gentlemen — until the very life was squeezed out of him.”
The trial was held in the Hennepin County courthouse in downtown Minneapolis with heavily armed law enforcement around the perimeter and barbed wire fencing on the building structure. Precautions were being taken against any civil unrest that may arise from a “not guilty” verdict.
The city of Minneapolis settled with the Floyd family awarding them $27 million in a federal civil rights action on March 13. It is the largest pre-trial settlement for a civil wrongful death action in U.S. history.
Chauvin will await his sentence in prison as he was immediately remanded into custody after Judge Cahill revoked his bail. Chauvin’s pre-sentencing investigation will begin as court officials gather information to present to Judge Cahill to allow a fully informed decision in this case.
It is unclear as to the length of time Chauvin will actually be committed to a penal institution as Minnesota sentencing guidelines allow the judge to use his discretion. Chauvin has no prior criminal history, which may reduce a maximum sentence, although attorneys argue there are also aggravating factors that could enhance his sentence.
Thomas Kiernan Lane (left), Alexander Kueng and Tou Nmn Thao are the ex-officers with the Minneapolis Police Department being charged in aiding and abetting Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. Hennepin Sheriff’s Department
The three other ex-officers who have been charged with the death of George Floyd are still awaiting trial for their participation in the murder. Thomas Kiernan Lane, Alexander Kueng and Tou Nmn Thao were originally charged as co-defendants with Chauvin. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions of social distancing, Judge Peter Cahill ordered separate trials for these three defendants to begin on Aug. 23.
“The physical limitations of courtroom C-1856, the largest courtroom in the Hennepin County Government Center, make it impossible to comply with Covid-19 physical restrictions in a joint trial involving all four defendants beginning March 8, 2021,” he wrote, “given the number of lawyers and support personnel the parties have now advised the court are expected to be present during trial.”
Tuesday’s guilty verdicts on murder and manslaughter charges for Chauvin are likely to influence the upcoming trial. The third-degree murder charge has been added to the charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter on the three remaining defendants.
Once a sentence has been handed down, Chauvin will have the right to appeal his conviction on any number of points of law.
President Joe Biden called the Floyd family on Monday while awaiting the verdict and said he was praying for them. Biden called them once again following the verdict and told them, “We’re all so relieved.”
The Senate should pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to hold law enforcement everywhere to the highest standards of accountability and help build trust between law enforcement and our communities.