Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday on all counts against him in the killing of George Floyd, nearly one year after kneeling on Floyd’s neck in an incident that sparked global protests against police brutality.
After less than 12 hours of deliberations, the jury returned guilty verdicts against Chauvin, finding him guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd on May 25, 2020.
Under Minnesota law, Chauvin can appeal his conviction after the court enters the judgment and he receives his sentence. Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said sentencing will take place in eight weeks. Chauvin's bail was revoked and he was remanded to custody.
The verdict was met with applause from observers outside the courthouse. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who led the prosecution of Chauvin, gave a press conference shortly after the verdict was read and praised the bystanders who testified at the trial.
"They performed simple, yet profound, acts of courage," Ellison said. "They told the truth and they told the whole world the truth about what they saw."
Jerry Blackwell, a member of the trial team, said that no verdict can bring Floyd back.
"But this verdict does give a message to his family, that he was somebody," Blackwell said. That his life mattered. That all of our lives matter. And that's important."
Chauvin was accused of murdering Floyd by keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck — depriving Floyd of oxygen — during an arrest. Over the course of the 14-day trial, jurors heard from more than 40 witnesses from both the state and Chauvin’s defense team and viewed video footage from the incident, including that filmed by police body cameras.
Prosecutors argued throughout the trial that Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck despite Floyd’s cries for help and acted against Minneapolis Police Department policies when he restrained Floyd — an assertion that was supported by several high-ranking police officials who testified that Chauvin’s conduct was unnecessary and excessive.
“On May 25, 2020, Derek Chauvin put his knees upon [Floyd’s] neck and back, grinding and crushing him until the very breath, the very life, was squeezed out of him,” Blackwell told jurors on the first day of the trial. “You will learn what happened in that nine minutes and 29 seconds, the most important numbers you will hear at this trial.”
Medical experts testified for the state that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen in his body, with one expert saying his breathing was restricted so severely that it was almost as if a lung were removed.
Jurors also heard emotional testimony from the bystanders who witnessed Floyd’s death outside the Cup Foods convenience store and from people who knew him, including his girlfriend, Courteney Batay Ross, and his brother, Philonise.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson argued that Floyd died from multiple causes, not solely from Chauvin’s actions. Floyd had underlying heart disease and hypertension, Nelson said, and also had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, according to the autopsy from the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office. One medical expert for the defense said he wouldn’t classify Floyd’s death as a homicide, opting to instead deem it “undetermined,” due to the contributing factors in Floyd’s death.
Nelson also argued that Floyd was combative and resistant when police tried to apprehend him. Video shows that Floyd refused to get into the back of the police vehicle before officers pinned him to the ground. Besides Floyd’s resistance, Nelson said, there was an angry crowd of bystanders that was growing more hostile during the incident.
“So what does Chauvin see?” Nelson said, attempting to put jurors in his client’s shoes. “He sees Officer [J. Alexander] Kueng and Officer [Thomas] Lane struggling with Mr. Floyd, attempting to put him into the car. A reasonable police officer is observing this with his eyes and his ears and assessing what he sees pursuant to policy. And what he sees at a minimum is active resistance. Mr. Floyd’s not just simply getting in the backseat of the car.”
With everyone from Floyd’s family to the White House watching, Chauvin’s trial had high stakes for the country, due to the immense impact of Floyd’s death.
During the trial, police departments prepared for potential unrest after the verdict, some of which has already occurred in the wake of other, recent killings at the hands of police. It remains to be seen if the verdict will lead to more demonstrations.
The jury’s verdict might not be the end of the Chauvin case. Nelson raised multiple objections before and throughout the trial that could form the basis of a strong appeal, according to David Schultz, a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and professor at Hamline University.
“I am convinced that if there’s a guilty verdict, the defense has laid the groundwork for an appeal on the argument of saying that it was impossible to get a fair trial in this atmosphere,” Schultz told Yahoo News before the verdict.
“Even before jury selection starts, you’ve got the request for a change of venue,” he continued. “You’ve got the intensity of the coverage. You’ve got the concerns [that], perhaps that if a jury acquits, are there going to be riots? Then we throw in the Minneapolis settlement with the Floyd family. The [Daunte Wright] shooting, Rep. Maxine Waters’s comments.”
Waters, D-Calif., attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn Center, Minn., this past weekend and said that activists should “get more confrontational” if Chauvin is not convicted of murder, Yahoo News’ Marquise Francis reported.
“I hope we get a verdict that says guilty, guilty, guilty,” Waters said Saturday in response to a reporter’s question. “And if we don’t, we cannot go away. We’ve got to stay on the street. We get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”
Nelson flagged the comments Monday as he asked Judge Cahill for a mistrial. Cahill denied that request but acknowledged that Waters’s comments were inappropriate.
“Well, I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” Cahill said.
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