Derek Chauvin verdict: Guilty on 3 charges in George Floyd’s death

Guidelines recommend a sentence of 12 and a half years

Kia Bible, who has helped run the medical unit providing services at George Floyd Square, pictured after the announcement of a verdict in the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, said it was a relief that Chauvin was found guilty. The verdict means “that we can actually make a change, that people listen.” (Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer)

This story originally appeared at Minnesota Reformer.

The jury has spoken, and found Derek Chauvin guilty in the death of George Floyd. The former Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd, who was handcuffed and face down on the pavement, for more than 9 minutes at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue last May. 

Chauvin was taken into custody and will be sentenced in eight weeks.

The incident was filmed by a teenager and set off a national racial reckoning after decades in which police killed Black men and were rarely punished.

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Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder; guilty of third-degree murder; and guilty of second-degree manslaughter.

After the verdict was read, Floyd’s relatives held a news conference with their attorney Ben Crump, who won an unprecedented $27 million settlement in the family’s civil lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis for Floyd’s death.

George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd said he felt relieved. The footage of his brother’s death was a “motion picture” played over and over again during the trial, “the world seeing his life be extinguished,” Philonise Floyd said — and he could do nothing but watch.

Philonise Floyd said he’s going to keep fighting for change, not just for George Floyd but for “everybody around this world.”

“I get (messages) from around the world … They’re all saying the same thing: ‘We won’t be able to breathe until you’re able to breathe,’” Philonise Floyd said. “Today, we are able to breathe again.”

Minnesotans reacted with relief and satisfaction that justice was done.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listened to closing statements on April 19, 2021, in his trial for killing George Floyd. (screenshot)

Outside the courthouse, demonstrators cheered and chanted “One down, three to go,” in reference to the three other officers charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death.

“We may begin the process of healing that our community has long needed,” said Michael Jones, sitting in his wheelchair amid a crowd outside the Hennepin County Government Center. “This is an emotional time. I have not seen a cop held accountable like this before.”

Minnesotans also gathered at George Floyd Square, the area in south Minneapolis near where Floyd was murdered. The square has become a place of collective grief and celebration since his death.

“I’m overjoyed. I feel like we can finally start doing the work that we need to do,” said the Rev. Lawrence Richardson of Linden Hills United Church of Christ. “My hope is that we can be an example for communities around the nation and around the world of what racial reconciliation can look like.”

The verdict came after prosecutors laid out a case over the course of 15 days that Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen, or asphyxiation, after Chauvin, a 19-year veteran on the Minneapolis police force, knelt on Floyd, 46.    

In the video taken by then-17-year-old Darnella Frazier, Floyd’s face is pinned to the pavement, with Chauvin casually atop him, grinding his knee into Floyd’s neck until he went unconscious in 4 minutes and 45 seconds, had no pulse after 5 minutes and died on the street, according to a breathing expert.

Frazier testified during the trial that she’s stayed up nights “apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting — not saving his life.”

Eliza Wesley, one of the caretakers at George Floyd Square, held court as people waited to learn the news of the verdict in the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin. (Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer)

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison thanked George Floyd’s family and the community for their patience before the trial. He also thanked the witnesses who testified after watching Chauvin press his knee into Floyd’s neck. They performed “simple yet profound acts of courage” in telling the truth, Ellison said.

“Why did they stop? They didn’t know George Floyd,” he said. “They stopped and raised their voices, and they even challenged authority because they saw (Floyd’s) humanity.”

Ellison said a verdict can’t end the pain Floyd’s family is experiencing, but he hopes it helps them heal. He called on community members to continue working toward criminal justice reform, saying “it’s in your hands now.”

“The work of our generation is to put unaccountable law enforcement behind us,” Ellison said. “One conviction like this one can create a powerful new opening to shed old practices and reset relationships.”

Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson argued Floyd died from a toxic mix of fentanyl and methamphetamine and health problems ranging from heart disease to hypertension, noting the county medical examiner found no evidence of injury to Floyd’s neck or back.

After closing arguments, Nelson moved for a mistrial, saying the overwhelming media coverage of the case — including comments from elected officials — was impossible to ignore. (Jurors were not sequestered until they began deliberating Monday afternoon.) 

The three other officers who were on the scene — Thomas Lane, who held down Floyd’s legs; J. Alexander Kueng, who knelt on Floyd’s back and Tou Thao, who kept onlookers at bay — are scheduled to go on trial in August for aiding and abetting Chauvin.

The maximum sentence is 40 years for second-degree unintentional murder, 25 years for third-degree murder and 10 years for second-degree manslaughter. But Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend a much shorter sentence — 12 and a half years — for murder for a person with no criminal history. Manslaughter has a presumptive sentence of four years for someone with no criminal history.

The case will be studied for decades given its historical importance and legal idiosyncrasies.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher said he got a call from Ellison, who asked him to help with the case. When a call like that comes, he said, “don’t overthink it,” just do it.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said that “No verdict can bring George Perry Floyd back,” but the verdict shows “He was somebody … and that’s important.” Blackwell said he hopes it brings us along the road “to a better humanity.”

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank says it was a privilege to get to know the Floyd family.

“This is for you, George Floyd,” he said, choking up and walking away from the microphone.

Max Nesterak and Ricardo Lopez of the Minnesota Reformer contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:04 p.m., April 20, 2021, to include additional details about the case and quotes from sources following the verdict.

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