Former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder on Tuesday in the death 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, guilty of all three charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter after considering three weeks of testimony from 45 witnesses, including bystanders, police officials and medical experts. Deliberations began on Monday and lasted just over 10 hours.
In a confrontation captured on video, Chauvin, a white veteran of the police force, 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. Chauvin and three fellow officers were attempting to arrest Floyd, who was accused of using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a grocery store.
The jurors remained still and quiet as the verdict was read, according to a pool report. Chauvin, wearing a gray suit with a blue tie and white shirt as well as a light-blue pandemic-related face mask, nodded and stood quickly when the judge ruled that his bail was revoked. He was taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs and placed in the custody of the Hennepin County sheriff.
Outside the courthouse, a crowd of several hundred people erupted in cheers when the verdict was announced.
The scene quickly turned festive with cars honking, demonstrators blocking traffic, grilling food, and chanting "George Floyd" and "All three counts."
Chris Dixon, a 41-year old Black Minneapolis resident, had tears rolling down his face.
"I was hoping that we would get justice and it looks like we did,” he said. "I’m just very proud of where I live right now."
President Joe Biden called the guilty verdict "a giant step" toward justice in the United States.
"It was a murder in the full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see," Biden said in nationally televised remarks. "Systemic racism is a stain on the nation's soul."
The Democratic president said the protests seen in the United States after Floyd's killing were something the nation had not witnessed since the civil rights movement and had unified people of different races.
"Nothing can ever bring their brother and father back," he said of the Floyd family, "but this can be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America."
Biden also praised the "brave young woman" who recorded Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck, and cited the police officers who testified for the prosecution in the case "instead of closing ranks."
"For so many," Biden said, "it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver basic accountability."
Vice President Kamala Harris also delivered remarks, urging the U.S. Senate to pass the "George Floyd Justice in Policing Act," which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and aims to stop aggressive law enforcement tactics that have targeted African Americans and other minorities.
"A measure of justice isn't the same as equal justice. This verdict brings us a step closer," said Harris, the first Black person, first Asian American and first woman to be vice president.
At George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, the intersection where Floyd was killed and which was later named in his honor, people screamed, applauded and some threw dollar bills in the air in celebration. The site has since become a rallying point for racial justice protests.
"Justice for Black America is justice for all of America," the Floyd family's attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement. "This case is a turning point in American history for accountability of law enforcement and sends a clear message we hope is heard clearly in every city and every state."
Chauvin had pleaded not guilty to the 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." He could now face up to 40 years in prison.
While the U.S. criminal justice system and juries have long given leeway and some legal protection to police officers who use violence to subdue civilians, the Minneapolis jurors found that Chauvin had crossed the line and used excessive force.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison told reporters that the verdict was a "first step towards justice" and should serve as a launching point for police reform so that similar cases do not occur.
"We need to use this verdict as an inflection point," he said.
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.
Floyd's death prompted protests against racism and police brutality in many cities in the United States and other countries even while people were dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Protests broke out again last week a few miles from Minneapolis after a police officer fatally shot a 20-year-old Black man after a routine traffic stop on April 11. Kimberly Potter, who has since turned in her badge, has been charged with manslaughter.
The Minneapolis Police Department fired Chauvin and three other officers the day after Floyd's death. The three others are due to face trial later this year on aiding-and-abetting charges.
HOURS OF TESTIMONY
Under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, Chauvin faces 12 -1/2 years in prison for his murder conviction as a first-time criminal offender. Prosecutors could seek a longer sentence of up to 40 years if Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over the trial, determines that there were "aggravating factors." Cahill said Chauvin's sentencing is likely eight weeks away.
In Minnesota, convicted criminals generally leave prison on supervised release after completing two thirds of their sentence. Chauvin had no previous criminal convictions.
In a trial that opened on March 29, the defense 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.
Witnesses called by prosecutors included a cardiologist, a pulmonologist, a toxicologist and a forensic pathologist, who testified 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.
Darnella Frazier, a teenager who told the jury she was walking with her 9-year-old cousin on the evening of Floyd's death, was also among the prosecution witnesses. She had used her cellphone to make a video depicting Floyd's excruciating ordeal, images that catalyzed 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.
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 jurors, who were four white women, two white men, three Black men, one Black woman and two multiracial women, were sequestered since they began deliberating on Monday.© Thomson Reuters 2021.