Derek Chauvin Found Guilty of Murdering George Floyd

Floyd’s death last year sparked a national reckoning about police brutality in the U.S.
April 20, 2021, 9:08pm
In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin listens as his defense attorney Eric Nelson gives closing arguments as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill preside Monday, April 19, 2021, in the trial of Chauvin at the Hennepin Co

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis cop who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, killing the 46-year-old Black man, has been found guilty of all charges against him.

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After more than three weeks of arguments and less than two full days of deliberation, six white, four Black, and two mixed-race jurors determined that Chauvin was guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

He will now be sentenced on three convictions, and could face up to 40 years in prison for his role in Floyd’s death.

Charge: Third-Degree Murder
Verdict: Guilty
Under Minnesota law, the prosecution had to prove that Chauvin committed an act that was “eminently dangerous to others,” and that resulted in a death. However, they did not have to prove that Chauvin intended to kill Floyd.

Charge: Second-Degree murder
Verdict: Guilty
Second-degree murder was Chauvin’s most severe charge. Under Minnesota law, prosecutors had to prove that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death while committing a crime, regardless of intent. Chauvin’s crime, in this case, was assault in the third degree.

Charge: Second-Degree Manslaughter
Verdict: Guilty
Under Minnesota law, prosecutors had to prove Chauvin took an “unreasonable risk” of causing death, regardless of what his intentions were, when he kneeled on Floyd’s neck and back for more than nine minutes.

After the verdict was read, cheers from the crowd gathered in the street could be heard from inside the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Moments later, Chauvin was taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

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The jury’s decision follows months of protests, nearly a year of national demands for police reform, and marks a rare example of a member of law enforcement facing legal consequences in the death of an unarmed Black American. Police are usually acquitted of killings, if they are even charged in the first place. 

Emotional reactions to Chauvin’s guilty verdict came in from Floyd’s family members on Tuesday.

"I was just praying they would find him guilty," Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, told reporters on Tuesday. "As an African American, we usually never get justice.”

“This has been a hard road not just for the family, but for everybody,” said Angela Harrelson, Floyd’s aunt. “This verdict is a verdict that is well needed, but overdue.”

"Painfully-earned justice has finally arrived for George Floyd's family" said Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris called the Floyd family soon after the verdict was read with words of support.

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“You’ve been incredible. You are an incredible family,” Biden said over speakerphone. “I’m anxious to see you guys, I really am. And we’re going to get a lot more done.”

“I’m just so thankful to the entire family,” Vice President Harris added. “History will look back at this moment and know that it’s an inflection moment.”

Darnella Frazier, the teenager and bystander who captured Floyd’s death on cellphone video last year, posted on Facebook that justice had been served.

“I just cried so hard,” Frazier wrote. “This last hour my heart was beating so fast, I was so anxious, anxiety bussing through the roof. But to know GUILTY ON ALL 3 CHARGES !!! THANK YOU GOD.”

Minnesota politicians were quick to applaud the jury’s decision in tempered tones.

“Today’s verdict is an important step forward for justice in Minnesota. The trial is over, but our work has only begun,” Minnesota’s Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement minutes after the verdict was read. “No verdict can bring George back, and my heart is with his family as they continue to grieve his loss. Minnesota mourns with you, and we promise the pursuit of justice for George does not end today.”

“I would not call today’s verdict justice,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said during a press conference Tuesday evening. “Justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step towards justice.”

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Chauvin was just one of four police officers who responded to a call from a South Minneapolis convenience store last May after Floyd allegedly used a counterfeit $20 to buy a pack of cigarettes. After police handcuffed him and walked him over to a nearby police vehicle, Floyd refused to get in, telling the officers that he suffered from claustrophobia. After a brief struggle, three officers, including Chauvin, took Floyd to the ground and restrained him. Chauvin then pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck and back, and continued to stay on top of him even after Floyd told officers he couldn’t breathe. 

Floyd died under Chauvin’s knee as a small group of bystanders looked on in horror.

Floyd’s death in police custody last summer was caught on video, and quickly spread online. It came just a few months after the high-profile police killing of Breonna Taylor during a no-knock warrant, and the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while jogging by two white men who claimed they were carrying out a citizen’s arrest. Together, the murders of Black Americans rekindled outrage over police brutality in the U.S., and thousands took to the streets calling for serious police reforms, and demanding that money be diverted away from police departments.  

Although rare, Chauvin’s conviction is not only one for a Twin Cities police officer in the past few years. In 2019, former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of an unarmed woman two years prior. And just last week, the veteran cop who shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a routine traffic stop was charged with second-degree murder just days after the incident.

The chances of Chauvin filing an appeal are “virtually guaranteed,” Andrew Wilson, a Minnesota criminal defense attorney, told VICE News.

“In the state of Minnesota, he has the right to appeal if there’s a conviction on any count,” Wilson said. “It would be foolish not to, and I think there are appeal-able issues.”

Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, repeatedly flagged what he said were issues with a fair trial, specifically that elected officials weighed in on the verdict before the jury reached their own conclusions.

“‘They’ve been saying ‘I’m not going to tell you what I want to happen, but you know what I want to have happen,’” Wilson said. “You know, fair enough, people have their opinions and are entitled to it, but it may all play into Chauvin’s appeal.”

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters and even President Joe Biden made public statements about the trial in the lead up to the verdict.

Judge Cahill, who presided over the trial, acknowledged the attention that it was getting and called out Waters for talking about the case during a rally earlier this month. But ultimately he decided that it would not impact the jury’s final verdict.

Chauvin will have 90 days after his sentencing to file an appeal.

In the weeks leading up to the conclusion of the Chauvin trial, cities around the country braced for potential unrest following a not guilty verdict. New York City officials said they were in regular talks with Minneapolis officers, and Los Angeles police said that the National Guard was on standby in case of protests and violence.

In Minnesota, preparations for the possibility of major protests following the jury’s decision started as early as February. Local businesses in the Twin Cities boarded up windows, while Minneapolis public schools transitioned back to remote learning as a public safety measure, and officials put up barbed wire fencing and concrete barriers in front of government buildings and police precincts. More than 3,000 National Guard members are already in St. Paul and Minneapolis, and the mayors of both cities requested additional troops.

Ahead of Tuesday’s verdict, hundreds of Minnesotans gathered at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago in Downtown Minneapolis, the intersection where Floyd died last May. Residents celebrated, with motorists honking their horns and pedestrians tossing money into the air.

Chauvin’s trial won’t be the last court proceeding concerning Floyd’s death. The other three former officers present when Floyd died—J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao—are scheduled to be tried in August. All three are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. 

While it will be months before the officers make an appearance in court, Chauvin’s guilty verdict could increase their chances of conviction, according to legal experts.

“With the jury finding Chauvin guilty of all three charges, I think convicting Kueng, Lane and Thao is fair game,” Andrew Gordon, deputy director of Community Legal Services at the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis, told VICE News. “It serves as further justification for the prosecutions that we’re likely to see in August.”

The maximum prison sentence figure for Derek Chauvin has been updated to 40 years, and reflects how the Minnesota judiciary will likely treat his three convictions.