Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin convicted of murder in George Floyd case

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin convicted of murder in George Floyd case

George Floyd Officer Trial
In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin listens as the verdict is read in his trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd, on Apr 20, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo: Court TV via AP, Pool)

MINNEAPOLIS: Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on Tuesday (Apr 20) of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in the deadly arrest of George Floyd, a milestone in the fraught racial history of the United States and a rebuke of law enforcement's treatment of black Americans.

The 12-member jury found Chauvin, 45, criminally liable in Floyd's death last year after considering three weeks of testimony from 45 witnesses, including bystanders, police officials and medical experts. Jurors began their deliberations on Monday.

In a confrontation captured on video, Chauvin, who is white, pushed his knee into the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in handcuffs, for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020, as he and three fellow officers arrested Floyd, who was accused of using a fake US$20 bill to buy cigarettes at a grocery store.

Floyd's death prompted protests against racism and police brutality in many cities in the United States and around the world last year. The courthouse in Minneapolis was surrounded by high barricades and guarded by National Guard troops. Many downtown businesses boarded up their windows as they braced for the verdict.

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.

George Floyd Officer Trial
Gianna Floyd, the daughter of George Floyd, joins family and supporters during a news conference after the verdict was read in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin on Apr 20, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

READ: George Floyd sought help with his 'very last breath': Prosecutor

Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, Chauvin faces 12.5 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.

Chauvin had pleaded not guilty to 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".

George Floyd Officer Trial
In this Apr 15, 2021, file image from video, defence attorney Eric Nelson, left, and former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin address Judge Peter Cahill at the courthouse in Minneapolis during Chauvin's trial in the death of George Floyd. (Photo: Court TV via AP)

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 tranquillity, 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.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called members of the Floyd family after the verdicts.

"Nothing is going to make it all better but at least God now there's some justice," Biden said. "We're all so relieved - not just the one verdict but all three, guilty on all three counts."

"This is a day of justice in America," said Harris, America's first black vice president. "History will look back at this moment."

In nationally televised remarks after the jury convicted Chauvin, Biden called on Americans to unite and pleaded for protesters to stay clear of violence.

"This is the time for this country to come together, to unite as Americans," he said.

"There are those who will seek to exploit the raw emotions in the moment - agitators and extremists who have no interest in social justice," he warned. "We can't let them succeed."

Biden also called for "confronting head on systemic racism and the racial disparities that exist in policing and our criminal justice system".

READ: Biden praying for 'right verdict' in Derek Chauvin trial 

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.

MEDICAL EXPERTS

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 defence 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.

Demonstrators hold a picture of George Floyd during a protest outside Hennepin County Government
Demonstrators hold a picture of George Floyd during a protest outside Hennepin County Government Center where Derek Chauvin is on trial. (Photo: AFP/Kerem Yucel)

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 Mar 29.

Frazier had used her cellphone to make a video depicting Floyd's excruciating ordeal, images that catalysed 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 defence 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.

George Floyd Officer Trial
Protesters rally outside the 3rd Precinct on Apr 19, 2021, in Minneapolis as the murder trial against the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd advances to jury deliberations. (Photo: AP/Morry Gash)

Courtroom seating was limited because of pandemic-related restrictions, leaving only single chairs at the back reserved for the families of Chauvin and Floyd. The Chauvin seat went mostly unclaimed until the final few days when at least two women began making appearances. Both declined to speak to reporters.

The judge let the proceedings be broadcast live to the public, a Minnesota first.

US news networks carried much of the trial live, though the coverage was sometimes interrupted by new episodes of police violence caught on camera.

For example, a black motorist named Daunte Wright was fatally shot on Apr 11 during a traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center. Wright's death has also drawn international attention and raises the prospect of another Minnesota trial in which a police officer is accused of using excessive force.

Source: Reuters/AFP/ec

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