Derek Chauvin faces up to 40 years in jail after being found guilty on all murder charges

Josh Marcus
·4 min read
<p>In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin listens as his defense attorney Eric Nelson gives closing arguments as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill preside Monday, April 19, 2021, in the trial of Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd.  </p> ((Court TV via AP, Pool))

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin listens as his defense attorney Eric Nelson gives closing arguments as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill preside Monday, April 19, 2021, in the trial of Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd.

((Court TV via AP, Pool))

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, has been found guilty on all three charges he was faced with. His most serious conviction is second-degree murder, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 40 years in Minnesota.

The jury came to the unanimous decision after hearing a wide range of testimony from witnesses presented by both the defence and prosecution during the three-week trial, but only needed about 10 hours of deliberation to reach a verdict.

Although he had the option to tell the jury his side of the story, Chauvin declined to testify, after invoking the 5th Amendment in court in Minneapolis.

On 25 May 2020, Chauvin knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes while detaining him face-first against the pavement in handcuffs during an arrest for a counterfeit $20 bill, setting off a global wave of protests against police brutality.

Mr Floyd pleaded for air and told officers he couldn’t breathe 27 times, as three officers held him down until he lost consciousness and didn’t have a pulse. They only removed themselves minutes later once paramedics arrived and lifted Mr Floyd’s limp body onto a stretcher.

Chauvin is believed to be only the second on-duty Minneapolis police officer in the department’s more than 150-year history to be convicted of murder, and the first white officer.

During closing arguments on Monday 19 April, prosecutor Steve Schleicher said that Chauvin ignored his police training and, as a result, killed Mr Floyd.

“The defendant abandoned his values, abandoned his training, and killed a man,” Mr Schleicher said.

“This was not at accident,” he continued. “He did what he did on purpose, and it killed George Floyd. That force for 9 min and 29 seconds, that killed George Floyd. And he betrayed the badge and everything it stood for.”

Mr Schleicher added: “This wasn’t policing, this was murder.”

However, defence attorney Eric Nelson unsuccessfully argued that the state failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin murdered Mr Floyd, adding that he acted as any “reasonable police officer” would in the same situation.

In his nearly three hour closing argument, Mr Nelson criticised expert witnesses who claimed that drug use and underlying health issues were not major factors in Mr Floyd’s death.

“When you take into consideration the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt, I would submit to you that it is nonsense to suggest none of these other factors had any role,” he said, as he spoke at length in an attempt to convince the jury to acquit Chauvin.

The former officer’s case was seen as a test, after nearly a decade of Black Lives Matter activism, of the justice system’s ability to prosecute police wrongdoing, but the decision is unlikely to quell tensions in the city or the country between police and the communities they serve.

Just 10 miles away from the courthouse where Chauvin’s trial took place, another police killing of an unarmed Black man occurred in the suburb of Brooklyn Centre before this historic case was even over, triggering another round of mass protests in Minneapolis and across the US.

On 11 April, former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. Authorities say Ms Potter, a 26-year police veteran, mistook her gun for her Taser before pulling the trigger. (Ms Potter resigned and has been charged with manslaughter.)

Outrage over Mr Wright’s death builds on a summer of anti-racist activism in the Twin Cities and beyond. Video of Mr Floyd’s death, which spread widely on social media as many were stuck at home and immersed in the collective despair of the pandemic, inspired between 15 and 26 million people in the US to protest against police brutality and systemic racism that summer, by some estimates the largest mass demonstrations in American history.

In Minneapolis, where, as in many cities communities of colour have faced decades of disproportionate police violence, mostly peaceful demonstrations continued for months, and sporadic rioting caused more than $500 million in property damage.