Since hearing 3 weeks of testimonies from 45 lawyers, the 12-member jury found Chauvin, 45, criminally guilty in Floyd’s death last year.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was acquitted on Tuesday on all three counts of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, a watershed moment in the country’s troubled political past and a condemnation of law enforcement’s prosecution of Black Americans.
Since hearing three weeks of evidence from 45 witnesses, including spectators, police officers, and medical professionals, the 12-member jury ruled Chauvin, 45, criminally guilty in Floyd’s death last year. Deliberations started on Monday and lasted slightly more than ten hours.
On May 25, 2020, Chauvin, a white cop, pushed his knee into the throat of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in handcuffs, for more than nine minutes as he and three other officers arrested Floyd, who was accused of using a bogus $20 bill to purchase cigarettes at a convenience store.
Chauvin, wearing a gray suit with a blue tie and white shirt as well as a light-blue pandemic-related face mask, nodded and stood quickly when the judge ruled that his bail was revoked.
He was taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs and placed in the custody of the Hennepin County Sheriff.
Chauvin had pleaded not guilty to the charges of second-degree unintentional murder involving “intentional infliction of bodily harm,” third-degree unintentional “depraved mind” murder involving an “act eminently dangerous to others,” and second-degree manslaughter involving a death caused by “culpable negligence.”
Outside the courthouse, a crowd of several hundred people erupted in cheers when the verdict was announced.
Chants of “George Floyd” and “All three counts” broke out. At George Floyd square in Minneapolis, the intersection where Floyd was killed and is now named after him, people screamed, applauded and wept. The site has since become a rallying point for racial justice protests.
Floyd’s death prompted protests against racism and police brutality in many cities in the United States and around the world last year. In advance of the verdict, many downtown businesses boarded up their windows, bracing for possible violence.
While the US criminal justice system and juries have long given leeway and some legal protection to police officers who use violence to subdue civilians, the jurors in this case found that Chauvin had crossed the line and used excessive force.
Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, Chauvin faces 12-1/2 years in prison for his murder conviction as a first-time criminal offender. Prosecutors could, however, seek a longer sentence up to the maximum of 40 years if Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over the trial, determines that there were “aggravating factors.”
In Minnesota, convicted criminals generally leave prison on supervised release after completing two thirds of their sentence. Chauvin had no previous criminal convictions.
The jury included four white women, two white men, three Black men, one Black woman and two multiracial women, according to court records.
Earlier on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden said he had spoken by phone with members of Floyd’s family.
“They’re a good family, and they’re calling for peace and tranquility, no matter what that verdict is. I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict, which is – I think it’s overwhelming in my view. I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now, (would) not hear me say that,” Biden told reporters at the White House.
The intersection of race and law enforcement has long been contentious in the United States, underscored by a series of deadly incidents involving white police officers and Black people in a number of American cities in recent years.
The Minneapolis Police Department fired Chauvin and three other officers the day after Floyd’s arrest. The three others are due to face trial later this year on aiding-and-abetting charges in Floyd’s death.
A cardiologist, a pulmonologist, a toxicologist and a forensic pathologist were medical experts called by prosecutors to testify that videos and autopsy results confirmed that Chauvin killed Floyd by compressing his body into the street in a way that starved him of oxygen.
The defense argued that Chauvin behaved as any “reasonable police officer” would have under these circumstances, and sought to raise doubts about the cause of Floyd’s death, saying heart disease or even the exhaust fumes from the nearby police car may have been factors.
Darnella Frazier, a teenager who told the jury she was taking her 9-year-old cousin to the Cup Foods grocery store that evening to get snacks, was among the witnesses called by prosecutors after jurors began hearing testimony on March 29.
Frazier had used her cellphone to make a video depicting Floyd’s excruciating ordeal, images that catalyzed the subsequent protests. Floyd can be heard on the video crying out for his mother and telling officers he could not breathe. Eventually Chauvin lifted his knee to allow paramedics to place Floyd’s limp body onto a stretcher.
Other eyewitnesses described the horror and lingering trauma of watching Floyd die in front of them. Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend of nearly three years, recalled their first kiss and their shared struggle with opioid addiction.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo appeared as a prosecution witness to testify that Chauvin’s actions during the arrest represented an egregious breach of his training.
Throughout the trial, Chauvin, who was free on bail, wore a suit and took notes on yellow legal pads while sitting alongside defense attorney Eric Nelson. Members of Floyd’s family took turns attending the trial, though some tried to avert their gaze when video of Floyd’s death, recorded from multiple angles, was replayed to jurors.
The judge ordered the jurors to be sequestered after they began deliberations.