Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts Tuesday for causing George Floyd’s death, a verdict that could send the disgraced former Minneapolis police officer to prison for the rest of his life.
His eyes darted left and right over his light blue surgical mask as Judge Peter Cahill read the jury’s verdict, but he betrayed little else in the way of emotion.
Chauvin, who was convicted of second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter, stood up quickly after the judge ordered his bail revoked and compliantly placed his hands to be handcuffed before he was led out of the courtroom. He faces up to 75 years in prison when he returns for sentencing in eight weeks.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson followed Chauvin out of the courtroom without comment. Chauvin was booked into the Oak Park Heights state prison. He arrived at 4:55 p.m.
Conviction on the top count of second-degree murder means the 12 jurors unanimously agreed that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death during the commission of a felony assault. The jury rejected the defense claim that there might have been other medical reasons Floyd died, saying Chauvin killed him, even if unintentionally, by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes.
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“Today, we are able to breathe again,” Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd said afterward.
Outside the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, which had been enclosed with razor wire, the crowd erupted into cheers when word of the verdict filtered out. Many said they feared the jury would not convict a white police officer of killing Floyd, who was Black.
“All three counts! All three counts!” the crowd chanted as cars honked and people danced on the blocked off streets, some of them waving Black Lives Matter flags and carrying signs that said “Justice for George Floyd.”
Jennifer Ramirez, 24, who lives in Minneapolis, headed to the Hennepin County Government Center before the verdict was announced.
“I hope Chauvin gets as much time in prison as possible, because he deserves it,” Ramirez said as she sat across the street, her mother and her brother by her side. “Maybe it will set a precedent for other police in the area and maybe nationwide. Hopefully this leads to change.”
Another celebration was underway a few miles away outside Cup Foods, the store where Chauvin killed Floyd by pinning his neck to the pavement with his knee for 9½ minutes on May 25. Video of the tragedy, which captured Floyd crying out “I can’t breathe” over and over again, sparked nationwide outrage and some of the biggest civil rights demonstrations in decades.
Earlier, the Floyd family got a congratulatory call from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
“We’re all so relieved,” Biden told the family. “We’re going to get a lot more done.”
“This is a day of justice,” Harris chimed in.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office oversaw Chauvin’s prosecution, commended the bystanders who tried to intervene, saying they were a “bouquet of humanity,” a phrase prosecutor Jerry Blackwell had used during the trial to describe the group who witnessed Floyd’s final moments.
“I would not call today’s verdict justice, however, because justice implies true restoration,” Ellison said. “But it is accountability, which is the first step toward justice.”
“George Floyd mattered,” Ellison said.
Before the verdict was announced, tensions had been high in the Twin Cities and in the nearby suburb of Brooklyn Center, where on April 11 a white police officer killed another Black man named Daunte Wright after a traffic stop.
The jury, which began deliberating Monday after three weeks of witness testimony, took a little over 10 hours to reach the unanimous verdict.
Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. Third-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 25 years. Second-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to 10 years.
The third-degree murder charge had initially been dismissed, but it was reinstated after an appeals court ruling in an unrelated case established new grounds for it days before jury selection started.
Prosecutors argued that Chauvin’s actions caused Floyd to die from low oxygen, or asphyxia. The defense claimed that Floyd’s illegal drug use and a pre-existing heart condition were to blame and urged jurors not to rule out other theories, as well, including exposure to carbon monoxide.
During closing arguments, prosecutors sought to focus jurors’ attention on the 9 minutes, 29 seconds they say Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, while Chauvin’s defense attorney told them that “the 9 minutes and 29 seconds ignores the previous 16 minutes and 59 seconds” of the interaction.
Image: Murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin
Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin is led away in handcuffs after a jury found him guilty of second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s death.Pool via Reuters
Prosecutors called 38 witnesses, including Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded the widely seen bystander video that brought global attention to Floyd’s death. She and other bystanders who testified said that they are haunted by Floyd’s death and that they wish they had done more to try to save his life. The defense called seven witnesses, two of whom were experts.
Chauvin had agreed to plead guilty to third-degree murder days after Floyd’s death, but William Barr, then the U.S. attorney general, rejected the deal because, officials said, he was worried that it was too early in the investigation and that it would be perceived as too lenient.
Floyd’s death touched off international protests against police brutality and racial injustice. The city of Minneapolis had spent months preparing for the trial and for the potential of unrest over the verdict.
Janelle Griffith reported from Minneapolis. Corky Siemaszko reported from Montclair, New Jersey.