Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, igniting one the largest civil rights uprisings in American history, was convicted by a jury of murder and manslaughter on Tuesday.
Chauvin, who has been free on $1 million bond since October, was handcuffed and taken to prison immediately after the judge announced the verdict. He was found guilty of second degree murder, third degree murder, and manslaughter, and faces up to 40 years in prison, though he will likely face around 12 years.
A twelve-person jury reached the unanimous verdict on its second day of deliberations, following a three-week trial featuring testimony from nearly 50 witnesses. In order to find Chauvin guilty of second degree murder, the top charge, jurors had to determine that he “intended to commit [third degree] assault and that George Floyd sustained substantial bodily harm as a result,” according to Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill’s instruction.
In his closing argument, prosecutor Steve Schleicher spoke of Chauvin’s “indifference” to Floyd’s life, and urged jurors to recall how they felt the first time they had seen video of the altercation last May.
The prosecution also sought to separate the case from the larger conversations about police reform that Floyd’s death had triggered around the country.
“Imagining a police officer committing a crime might be the most difficult thing you have to set aside, because that’s just not the way we think about police officers,” Schleicher said. “What the defendant did was not policing. What the defendant did was an assault.”
Chauvin and other officers had pursued Floyd because he had allegedly used a counterfeit bill to purchase a pack of cigarettes.
An attorney for Chauvin, Eric Nelson, characterized Floyd’s death as the result of a range of factors, including his health and the drugs that were found in his system — a conclusion that several medical experts rebutted. An autopsy prepared by the Hennepin County medical examiner attributed Floyd’s death to “subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”
Nelson indicated this week that his client may appeal a guilty verdict on the grounds that jurors could have been swayed by outside forces.
Chauvin is expected to be sentenced in around eight weeks. In Minnesota, the presumptive sentence for murder is 12.5 years, though prosecutors may ask for a higher sentence.
The ruling comes nearly one year after Floyd’s death set off historic racial justice protests across the country. In New York, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to demand cuts to the NYPD budget, an overhauled police disciplinary system, and other reforms, some of which have since been enacted. Those demonstrations were overwhelmingly peaceful, but devolved at times into rioting and looting.
The NYPD’s response to those demonstrations was widely criticized as aggressive and violent, prompting a pledge from Mayor Bill de Blasio to overhaul the NYPD’s protest policing efforts. But activists say that the NYPD has yet to adopt many of those promised reforms, and has continued to brutalize protesters without justification.
On Tuesday night, Black Lives Matter groups are planning to gather at Barclays Center and Times Square, among other locations.
At a press conference on Tuesday morning, the mayor said the city was prepared for anything in the wake of the verdict.
“I hope and pray that justice is served, and if people come out to in any way express themselves, that they realize the power of peaceful protest,” de Blasio said. “We’ll be ready to support peaceful protest.”
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