Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd in a verdict read Tuesday. With the conviction, Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison.
Millions of people around the world watched Floyd’s life leave his body as Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes last Memorial Day. The killing sparked protests in Minnesota and around the world.
Chauvin’s trial — the first in Minnesota history to be broadcast live and in full — is also believed to be the first time an on-duty white Minnesota police officer has been convicted of the murder of a Black person.
The jury came to its decision after a three-week trial that saw several witnesses from the Minneapolis Police Department, including Chief Medaria Arradondo, testify against the former officer, and the verdict came just one day after closing arguments were presented. Chauvin was handcuffed after the verdict was announced and will await sentencing in custody.
“I would not call today’s verdict justice however, because justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step towards justice,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said during a press conference following the verdict.
Sentencing in eight weeks
In the course of the trial, the prosecution, led by Ellison’s office, built a case that argued Chauvin’s actions caused Floyd’s death. The defense argued that Chauvin acted reasonably and that other factors may have contributed to Floyd’s death, including underlying health conditions, drugs and environmental factors.
Jurors heard from 44 witnesses, including bystanders, paramedics, police officers, medical experts and people close to Floyd who reconstructed what happened in South Minneapolis last summer and testified on the potential effects of the force Chauvin used as he kneeled on Floyd.
The testimony and other evidence presented was enough to convince all members of the 12-member jury that Chauvin was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on all three counts: Second-degree murder, meaning guilty of causing Floyd’s death in committing third-degree assault causing serious bodily harm; third-degree murder, or guilty of actions “eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life”; and second-degree manslaughter, meaning guilty of negligence that created an unreasonable risk of death or great bodily harm.
Despite the conviction on the third-degree murder charge, whether or not it applies to Chauvin’s case is something of an open question, pending a Minnesota Supreme Court decision in the case of Mohamed Noor, the former Minneapolis Police officer convicted of killing Justine Damond in 2017. At issue in the Noor case is whether third-degree murder can apply under Minnesota law in situations where just one person’s life is endangered, versus many. Noor, a Black man, is believed to be the first officer ever convicted in an on-duty shooting death.
If the state’s high court rules in Noor’s favor, Chauvin is likely to have grounds for an appeal on this count.
Chauvin was masked, making it hard to read his expression, as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill read the verdict just after 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Though Chauvin was convicted on multiple counts, he will only be sentenced on the most serious: second-degree unintentional murder. That charge carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. While it’s up to the jury to decide whether someone is guilty or not guilty, sentencing is up to the judge.
Under Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines, crimes have their own prescribed sentences based on severity and a person’s criminal history. The prosecution is seeking a stiffer penalty — called an aggravated sentence — than is recommended in the guidelines for Chauvin based on factors in the case.
Certain factors, including a crime committed in front of minors and abuse of governmental authority — both potentially at play in Chauvin’s case — can be grounds for an aggravated sentence. Judge Peter Cahill has the authority to decide whether Chauvin gets an aggravated sentence based on whether or not aggravating factors are present.
Cahill announced that sentencing would take place in eight weeks. Chauvin has the right to appeal the verdicts, a process that could take years.
George Floyd’s brother Philonise told reporters the last year had been “a long journey” and he hoped to finally get some sleep.
He called for people to do more to end police killings, saying Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old killed by former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter earlier in April, “should still be here.”
Philonise Floyd said his brother’s killing reminded him of the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year old Black boy lynched in Mississippi in 1955. But his brother’s murder was captured on video for the world to see.
In wake of his brother’s killing he has been getting messages of support from people all over the world. “They’re all saying the same thing: We won’t be able to breathe until you’re able to breathe. Today we are able to breathe again.”
Walker Orenstein contributed to this report.