Former US police officer Derek Chauvin has been imprisoned for the murder of George Floyd in America.
Former US police officer Derek Chauvin has been sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison for the murder of George Floyd, whose dying gasps under Chauvins knee led to the biggest outcry against racial injustice in America for generations.
The punishment which fell short of the 30 years that prosecutors had requested came after Chauvin broke his more than year-long silence in court to offer condolences to the Floyd family, saying he hoped more information coming out would eventually give them some peace of mind.
With good behaviour, Chauvin, 45, could be paroled after serving two-thirds of his sentence, or about 15 years.
In imposing the punishment, Judge Peter Cahill went beyond the 12-and-a-half-year sentence prescribed under state guidelines, citing your abuse of a position of trust and authority and also the particular cruelty shown to Floyd.
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Chauvin was immediately led back to prison. As with the verdicts in April, he showed little emotion when the judge pronounced the sentence. His eyes moved rapidly around the courtroom, his Covid-19 mask obscuring much of his face.
The fired white officer was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for pressing his knee against Floyds neck for up to nine and a half minutes as the 46-year-old black man gasped that he couldnt breathe and went limp on May 25, 2020.
Bystander video of Floyds arrest on suspicion of passing a counterfeit US$20 bill at a corner store prompted protests around the world and led to scattered violence in Minneapolis and beyond.
Derek Chauvin addresses the court.
On Saturday morning (NZ time), Chauvin, who did not testify at his trial, removed his mask and turned towards the Floyd family, speaking only briefly because of what he called some additional legal matters at hand an apparent reference to the federal civil rights trial he still faces.
But very briefly, though, I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family. Theres going to be some other information in the future that would be of interest. And I hope things will give you some peace of mind, he said, without elaborating.
In asking that Chauvin be given probation, defence lawyer Eric Nelson called Floyds death tragic and said that Chauvin’s brain is littered with what-ifs from that day: What if I just did not agree to go in that day? What if things had gone differently? What if I never responded to that call? What if, what if, what if?
Derek Chauvins mother Carolyn Pawlenty speaks in court on Saturday.
Floyd’s family members took the stand and expressed sorrow about his death. They asked for the maximum penalty.
We dont want to see no more slaps on the wrist. Weve been through that already, said a tearful Terrence Floyd, one of Floyd’s brothers.
Floyd’s nephew Brandon Williams said: Our family is forever broken. And Floyd’s 7-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a video played in court, said that if she could say something to her father now, it would be: I miss you and I love you.
Prosecutor Matthew Frank asked the judge to exceed sentencing guidelines and give Chauvin 30 years in prison, saying tortured is the right word for what the officer did to Floyd.
Relatives of George Floyd (pictured) spoke of their loss in court.
This is not a momentary gunshot, punch to the face. This is nine and a half minutes of cruelty to a man who was helpless and just begging for his life, Frank said.
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, appeared in court to plead for mercy for her son, saying his reputation has been unfairly reduced to that of an aggressive, heartless and uncaring person and a racist.
I can tell you that is far from the truth, she told the judge. I want this court to know that none of these things are true and that my son is a good man. She added: Derek, I want you to know I have always believed in your innocence, and I will never waiver from that.
I will be here for you when you come home, she said.
The site where Floyd died has been turned into a memorial.
The concrete barricades, razor wire and National Guard patrols at the courthouse during Chauvin’s three-week trial in the spring were gone on Saturday, reflecting an easing of tensions since the verdict in April. Still, there was recognition that the sentencing was another major step forward for Minneapolis since Floyd died on May 25, 2020.
Between the incident, the video, the riots, the trial this is the pinnacle of it, said Mike Brandt, a local defence lawyer who closely followed the case. The verdict was huge too, but this is where the justice comes down.
A general view of the site where George Floyd died, as it looks now.
Minnesota sentencing guidelines called for 12 and a half years in jail, but Judge Peter Cahill agreed with prosecutors ahead of Saturdays proceedings that there were aggravating circumstances that could justify a heavier punishment among them, that Chauvin treated Floyd with particular cruelty, abused his position of authority as a police officer and did it in front of children.
Prosecutors asked for 30 years, saying Chauvins actions were egregious and shocked the nations conscience. The defence requested probation, saying Chauvin was the product of a broken system and believed he was doing his job.
With good behaviour, Chauvin could get out on parole after serving about two-thirds of his sentence.
Before the sentencing, the judge denied Chauvins request for a new trial. Defence lawyer Eric Nelson had argued that the intense publicity tainted the jury pool and that the trial should have been moved away from Minneapolis.
George Floyds death ignited simmering tensions over racism in the US.
The judge also rejected a defence request for a hearing into possible juror misconduct. Nelson had accused a juror of not being candid during jury selection because he didnt mention his participation in a march last summer to honour the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Prosecutors countered the juror had been open about his views.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for the family, said relatives were anxious and tense ahead of the proceedings. To us, George Floyd is a cause. Hes a case. Hes a hashtag. To them, thats their flesh and blood. You know, that thats their brother, Crump said.
Before the sentencing it was unclear whether Chauvin would break his long silence. Some experts expressed doubt he would say anything because of the risk his words could be used against him in the federal case. No date for that trial has been set.
But Brandt said Chauvin could say a few words without getting into legal trouble. I think its his chance to tell the world, I didnt intend to kill him, the lawyer said. If I was him, I think I would want to try and let people know that Im not a monster.
Chauvin did not testify at his trial. The only explanation the public heard from him came from body-camera footage in which he told a bystander at the scene: We got to control this guy cause hes a sizeable guy … and it looks like hes probably on something.
Chauvin has spent the past few months in a cell similar to this.
Philip Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University, said 11 non-federal law officers, including Chauvin, had been convicted of murder for on-duty deaths since 2005. The penalties for the nine who were sentenced before Chauvin ranged from six years, nine months, to life behind bars, with the median being 15 years.
With Chauvins sentencing, the Floyd family and black America faced something of a rarity: in the small number of instances in which officers accused of brutality or other misconduct against black people have gone to trial, the list of acquittals and mistrials is longer than the list of sentencings after conviction.
In recent years, the acquittals have included officers tried in the deaths of Philando Castile in suburban Minneapolis and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Two mistrials were declared over the death of Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati.
Thats why the world has watched this trial, because it is a rare occurrence, said Arizona-based civil rights lawyer Benjamin Taylor, who has represented victims of police brutality. Everybody knows that this doesnt happen every day.
Several people interviewed in Minneapolis before Chauvin’s sentencing said they wanted to see a tough sentence.
Derek Chauvin faces further charges as well.
Thirty years wouldnt seem like long enough to me, said Andrew Harer, a retail worker who is white. I would be fine if he was in jail for the rest of his life.
Joseph Allen, 31, who is black, said he wanted to see Chauvin get a life sentence, adding that he hoped other police officers learned not to do what Derek Chauvin did.
As for whether she wanted to hear Chauvin speak, Levy Armstrong said: For me, as a black woman living in this community, theres really nothing that he could say that would alleviate the pain and trauma that he caused. … I think that if he spoke it would be disingenuous and could cause more trauma.
Chauvin had been held since his conviction at the state’s maximum-security prison in Oak Park Heights, where he was kept in a cell by himself for his own protection, his meals brought to him.
The three other officers are scheduled for trial in March on state charges of aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter.