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(CNN) — The former Minneapolis Police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes last year was found guilty Tuesday of all three charges against him in one of the most consequential trials of the Black Lives Matter era.
Derek Chauvin, 45, was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The jury deliberated for more than 10 hours over two days before coming to their decision.
Wearing a mask inside the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Chauvin had no apparent reaction to the guilty verdict. Afterward, his bail was revoked and he was placed in handcuffs and removed from the court through a side door.
The second-degree murder charge said Chauvin assaulted Floyd with his knee, which unintentionally caused Floyd’s death. The third-degree murder charge said Chauvin acted with a “depraved mind,” and the manslaughter charge said his “culpable negligence” caused Floyd’s death.
Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, up to 25 years for third-degree murder and up to 10 years for manslaughter. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines recommend about 12.5 years in prison for each murder charge and about four years for the manslaughter charge. In this case, the state has asked for a tougher sentence than the recommendations provide. Chauvin’s sentencing is set for eight weeks from now.
The verdict comes about 11 months after bystander video showed Chauvin impassively kneeling on the neck and back of Floyd, handcuffed and lying prone on the street, for 9 minutes and 29 seconds on May 25, 2020. Under the officer’s knees, the 46-year-old Black man gasped for air, repeatedly exclaimed “I can’t breathe” and ultimately went silent.
His final moments illustrated in clear visuals what Black Americans have long said about the ways that the criminal justice system dehumanizes Black people, setting off mass protests across the country as well as incidents of looting and unrest.
Over about three weeks of testimony in court, Minnesota prosecutors repeatedly told jurors to “believe your eyes” and rely on that video.
“This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video. It is exactly that. You can believe your eyes,” prosecuting attorney Steve Schleicher said in closing arguments. “This wasn’t policing. This was murder.”
The defense called seven witnesses — but not Chauvin himself, as he invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify. Defense attorney Eric Nelson argued that Chauvin’s use of force was reasonable, that he was distracted by hostile bystanders and that Floyd died of other causes.
Tears of joy in and out of court
In a first for Minnesota, the trial was broadcast live in its entirety to accommodate Covid-19 attendance restrictions, giving the public a rare look into the heart of the legal system.
Tensions have been high throughout the Twin Cities region, and authorities ramped up security in anticipation of a verdict. The Hennepin County Government Center has been surrounded by fencing and barricades since jury selection began in March. More than 3,000 Minnesota National Guard members have also been activated in the Twin Cities, while businesses in Minneapolis have boarded up windows.
But the all-guilty verdict led to cries of joy and sighs of relief among those in Minneapolis, including outside the Cup Foods store where Floyd took his final breaths.
Inside court, Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s younger brother, clasped his hands over his head in prayer as the verdict was read, according to pool reporters, including CNN’s Josh Campbell. During the third guilty verdict, his hands shook back and forth and he kept his head down and eyes closed as his head nodded up and down, the report said.
After court concluded, Philonise Floyd was seen crying as he hugged all four prosecutors.
“I was just praying they would find him guilty,” he explained. “As an African American, we usually never get justice.”
The Floyd family, the Rev. Al Sharpton, attorney Ben Crump and other close allies called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in a post-verdict news conference that was in turns triumphant, joyous, relieved and solemn.
“We frame this moment for all of us, not just George Floyd,” Crump said. “This is a victory for those who champion humanity over inhumanity, those who champion justice over injustice, those who champion morals over immorality.”
For Philonise Floyd, who testified about his brother at the trial, the verdict was personal.
“I feel relieved today that I finally have the opportunity for, hopefully, getting some sleep,” he said. “A lot of days that I prayed and I hoped and I was speaking everything into existence. I said I have faith that he will be convicted.”
After the verdict, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke on the phone with the Floyd family and their attorneys, according to video posted by Crump.
“Nothing is going to make it all better,” Biden told them, but “at least now there’s some justice.”
Biden, in addressing the nation later, said, “Nothing can ever bring their brother or their father back. But this can be a giant step forward in the march towards justice in America.”
The President said that in order for their to be real change, lawmakers must help ensure a tragedy like this cannot happen and that people of color no longer fear being stopped by police.
He said he told the Floyd family “we’re going to continue to fight for the passage of George Floyd Justice in Policing Act so I can sign it into law as quickly as possible. There is more to do. Finally it is the work we do every day to change hearts and minds as well as laws and policies. That’s the work we have to do.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted the case, cautioned that the verdicts were not the end of the road.
“I would not call today’s verdict justice, however, because justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step toward justice,” he said.
The nation’s largest police union, the National Fraternal Order of Police, also praised the trial as fair.
“Our system of justice has worked as it should, with the prosecutors and defense presenting their evidence to the jury, which then deliberated and delivered a verdict,” the statement read. “The trial was fair and due process was served. We hope and expect that all of our fellow citizens will respect the rule of law and remain peaceful tonight and in the days to come.”
Prosecutor says trial is ‘pro-police’
Prosecutors called 38 witnesses over the course of three separate phases of the trial.
First, bystanders at the scene testified about their fear and horror as they watched Floyd slowly die under Chauvin’s restraint. Next, a series of police supervisors and use-of-force experts — including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo — criticized Chauvin’s continued kneeling as excessive and unreasonable, particularly after Floyd had passed out, stopped breathing and had no pulse.
Finally, five separate medical experts explained that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen when Chauvin restricted his ability to breathe in what’s known as “positional asphyxia.”
In the state’s closing argument, Schleicher said Chauvin knelt on Floyd for so long because of his pride and his ego in the face of concerned bystanders.
“He was not going to let these bystanders tell him what to do. He was going to do what he wanted, how he wanted, for as long as he wanted. And there was nothing, nothing they can do about it because he had the authority. He had the power, and the other officers, the bystanders were powerless,” he said. “He was trying to win, and George Floyd paid for it with his life.”
He contrasted Chauvin’s “ego-based pride” with the proper feelings of pride in wearing a police badge and praised policing as a noble profession. He insisted the state was prosecuting Chauvin individually — not policing in general.
“This is not an anti-police prosecution; it is a pro-police prosecution,” he said. “There is nothing worse for good police than bad police.”
In response, Nelson said Chauvin acted as a “reasonable officer” would in that situation and said there was no evidence he intentionally or purposefully used force that was unlawful.
“You have to take into account that officers are human beings, capable of making mistakes in highly stressful situations,” Nelson said. “In this case, the totality of the circumstances that were known to a reasonable police officer in the precise moment the force was used demonstrates that this was an authorized use of force, as unattractive as it may be. This is reasonable doubt.”
The three other former officers on scene — Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. They have pleaded not guilty, and their joint trial will be held this summer.