Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who killed George Floyd on a Minneapolis street last year, is set to be sentenced Friday to a potentially lengthy prison stay.
Chauvin, 45, was convicted in April on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for his role in Floyd’s death.
Hours before sentencing, Chauvin’s post-verdict motion for a new trial was denied by a judge.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill ruled Thursday night that Chauvin “failed to demonstrate … the Court abused its discretion or committed error such that Defendant was deprived of his constitutional right to a fair trial.”
Cahill also ruled that Chauvin failed to demonstrate prosecutorial or juror misconduct.
Defense attorneys had argued that “errors, abuses of discretion, prosecutorial and jury misconduct” made the trial unfair.
Prosecutors for the state of Minnesota have requested a 30-year prison sentence, saying it “would properly account for the profound impact of Defendant’s conduct on the victim, the victim’s family, and the community,” according to a sentencing memo.
Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, argued that the former officer should instead receive probation and time served, or at least a sentence less than what the law guides.
“Mr. Chauvin asks the Court to look beyond its findings, to his background, his lack of criminal history, his amenability to probation, to the unusual facts of this case, and to his being a product of a ‘broken’ system,” Nelson wrote in a filing.
The guilty verdict on all three charges against Chauvin came nearly a year after he impassively kneeled on the neck and back of Floyd, handcuffed and lying prone on the street, for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Under the officer’s knees, the 46-year-old Black man gasped for air, repeatedly exclaimed “I can’t breathe” and ultimately went silent as a group of horrified bystanders looked on.
Floyd’s final moments, captured on searing cell phone footage by a 17-year-old, illustrated in clear visuals what Black Americans have long said about how the criminal justice system treats Black people. Floyd’s death set off mass protests across the globe as well as incidents of looting and unrest.
Chauvin arrived at the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis hours before his sentencing hearing Friday.
Three other officers who were on scene during Floyd’s fatal arrest — Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and Alexander Kueng — have pleaded not guilty to charges of aiding and abetting. Their trial is currently set for March 2022.
How the sentencing will go
The sentencing is set to take place at 1:30 p.m. CT at the Hennepin County Government Center. Cahill, who oversaw the trial, will likewise decide the sentence.
Members of Floyd’s family will be allowed to deliver victim impact statements, and Chauvin will have an opportunity to speak before he is sentenced.
Since his conviction, Chauvin has been held at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights, outside of Minneapolis, and was put into a segregated housing unit for his own safety, a prison spokesperson said. The Minnesota Department of Corrections will decide on where Chauvin will serve his time after receiving Cahill’s sentencing order, spokeswoman Sarah Fitzgerald told CNN.
Legally, Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, up to 25 years for third-degree murder and up to 10 years for manslaughter. The second-degree murder charge said Chauvin assaulted Floyd with his knee, which unintentionally caused Floyd’s death. The third-degree murder charge said Chauvin acted with a “depraved mind,” and the manslaughter charge said his “culpable negligence” caused Floyd’s death.
Chauvin has no prior criminal record, so Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines recommend about 12 and a half years in prison for each murder charge and about four years for the manslaughter charge.
The sentences for the charges will likely be served at the same time, rather than consecutively, per sentencing guidelines. That means the sentence for second-degree murder will be of primary importance.
In this case, state prosecutors asked for a tougher sentence than the recommendations provide, citing five aggravating factors they said applied. Judge Peter Cahill has ruled that four of the five factors were proven beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) Chauvin abused a position of trust and authority, (2) he treated Floyd with particular cruelty, (3) children were present during the offense, and (4) Chauvin committed the crime as a group with the active participation of at least three other people.
The findings allow the judge to sentence Chauvin beyond what the guidelines recommend.
Over about three weeks of testimony in court, Minnesota prosecutors repeatedly told jurors to “believe your eyes” and rely on the infamous video of Floyd.
“This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video. It is exactly that. You can believe your eyes,” prosecuting attorney Steve Schleicher said in closing arguments. “This wasn’t policing. This was murder.”
The defense called seven witnesses — but not Chauvin himself, as he invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify. Nelson argued that Chauvin’s use of force was reasonable, that he was distracted by hostile bystanders and that Floyd died of other causes.
Chauvin faces other legal issues as well. A federal grand jury indicted all four former officers in connection with Floyd’s death, alleging they violated his constitutional rights, according to court documents filed in federal court in Minnesota. They are due to be arraigned on the charges in September, according to a court filing.
Chauvin also was charged in a separate indictment related to an incident in which he allegedly used unreasonable force on a Minneapolis 14-year-old in September 2017, the Justice Department said in a statement. He is also expected to be arraigned in that case in September, according to court filings.
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