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Derek Chauvin faces up to 40 years in jail after being found guilty on all murder charges

Jury comes to its decision following high-profile trial

Josh Marcus,Oliver O'Connell
Tuesday 20 April 2021 22:08 BST
The verdict is read in the trial of Derek Chauvin

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, has been found guilty on all three charges he was faced with.

His most serious conviction is second-degree murder, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 40 years in Minnesota. The other charges were third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, which carry maximum penalties of 25 years and 10 years in prison, respectively.

Chauvin, who showed no emotion as the verdict was read, nodded towards the judge as his bail was revoked, and he was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom. He will remain in police custody until sentencing in June.

The jury came to the unanimous decision after hearing a wide range of testimony from witnesses presented by both the defence and prosecution during the three-week trial, but only needed about 10 hours of deliberation to reach a verdict.

Although he had the option to tell the jury his side of the story, Chauvin declined to testify, after invoking the 5th Amendment in court in Minneapolis.

On 25 May 2020, Chauvin knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes while detaining him face-first against the pavement in handcuffs during an arrest for using a counterfeit $20 bill.

Mr Floyd pleaded for air and told officers he couldn’t breathe 27 times, as three officers held him down until he lost consciousness and didn’t have a pulse. They only removed themselves minutes later once paramedics arrived and lifted Mr Floyd’s limp body onto a stretcher.

The murder set off a global wave of protests against police brutality.

Reacting emotionally to the three guilty verdicts, Mr Floyd’s brother, Rodney, said he had tears in his eyes as the jury’s decision was read out by Hennepin County judge Peter Cahill.

“I mean, I’m feeling tears of joy, so emotional that no family in history ever got this far,” said Mr Floyd to MSNBC.

“You know, to get a guilty charge on all accounts, we got a chance to go to trial and he took it all away. So this right here is for everyone that’s been in this situation, everybody. Everybody. We are here. We stand in a unit.”

Another of Mr Floyd’s brothers, Philonise, fought back tears as he spoke of his relief at the verdict: “I feel relieved today I finally have the opportunity for hopefully getting some sleep. Today we are able to breathe again.”

Continuing, he said: “Today you have the cameras all around the world to see and show what happened to my brother. The world saw his life being extinguished and I could do nothing but watch, especially in that courtroom, over and over again as my brother was murdered.”

He added: “I’m not just fighting for George anymore, I’m fighting for everyone,”

Following the announcement of the verdict, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with the family from the Oval Office.

“Nothing is going to make it all better but at least God now there is some justice,” said Mr Biden.

“We’ve been watching every second of this, and the vice president, all of us, and we’re all so relieved not just for one verdict but all three, guilty on all three counts, and it’s just really important.”

He added: “We’re going to get a lot more done. We’re going to do a lot. We’re going to stay at it until we get it done.”

Floyd family lawyer Ben Crump tweeted a video of the call and urged the White House to push forward with police reform.

Mr Biden and Ms Harris both delivered public remarks, with the vice president saying: “Black Americans, and Black men in particular, have been treated throughout the course of our country as less than human. Black men are fathers and brothers and sons ... their lives must be valued ... We’re all a part of George Floyd’s legacy and our job now is to honour it.”

The president said: “Systematic racism is a stain on our nation’s soul, the knee on the neck of justice for Black Americans. Profound fear and trauma, the pain, the exhaustion that Black and brown Americans experience every single day ... today’s verdict is a step forward.”

Former president Barack Obama with his wife Michelle released a joint statement saying that “true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial”.

“True justice requires that we come to terms with the fact that Black Americans are treated differently, every day,” he added.

“We cannot rest,” Mr Obama said. “We will need to follow through with the concrete reforms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate racial bias in our criminal justice system. We will need to redouble efforts to expand economic opportunity for those communities that have been too long marginalised.”

Mr Obama’s words echoed the sentiments of many Black American leaders and elected officials across the country.

Chauvin is believed to be only the second on-duty Minneapolis police officer in the department’s more than 150-year history to be convicted of murder, and the first white officer.

During closing arguments on Monday, prosecutor Steve Schleicher said that Chauvin ignored his police training and, as a result, killed Mr Floyd.

“The defendant abandoned his values, abandoned his training, and killed a man,” Mr Schleicher said.

“This was not an accident,” he continued. “He did what he did on purpose, and it killed George Floyd. That force for 9 min and 29 seconds, that killed George Floyd. And he betrayed the badge and everything it stood for.”

Mr Schleicher added: “This wasn’t policing, this was murder.”

However, defence attorney Eric Nelson unsuccessfully argued that the state failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin murdered Mr Floyd, adding that he acted as any “reasonable police officer” would in the same situation.

In his nearly three-hour closing argument, Mr Nelson criticised expert witnesses who claimed that drug use and underlying health issues were not major factors in Mr Floyd’s death.

“When you take into consideration the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt, I would submit to you that it is nonsense to suggest none of these other factors had any role,” he said, as he spoke at length in an attempt to convince the jury to acquit Chauvin.

The former officer’s case was seen as a test, after nearly a decade of Black Lives Matter activism, of the justice system’s ability to prosecute police wrongdoing. However, the decision is unlikely to quell tensions in the city or the country between police and the communities they serve.

Minnesota governor Tim Walz released a statement shortly after the verdict was read saying that it was an important step for justice in the state.

“The trial is over, but our work has only begun,” he wrote, later adding: “We know that accountability in the courtroom is only the first step.”

Just 10 miles away from the courthouse where Chauvin’s trial took place, another police killing of an unarmed Black man occurred in the suburb of Brooklyn Center before this historic case was even over, triggering another round of mass protests in Minneapolis and across the US.

On 11 April, former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. Authorities say Ms Potter, a 26-year police veteran, mistook her gun for her Taser before pulling the trigger. Ms Potter resigned and has been charged with manslaughter.

Governor Walz noted in his statement that true justice for Mr Floyd only comes through real, systemic change to prevent this from happening again.

“The tragic death of Daunte Wright this week serves as a heartbreaking reminder that we still have so much more work to do to get there.”

Outrage over Mr Wright’s death builds on 2020’s summer of anti-racist activism in the Twin Cities and beyond. Video of Mr Floyd’s death, which spread widely on social media as many were stuck at home and immersed in the collective despair of the coronavirus pandemic, inspired between 15 and 26 million people in the US to protest against police brutality and systemic racism. By some estimates, it was the largest mass demonstration in American history.

In Minneapolis, where, as in many cities communities of colour have faced decades of disproportionate police violence, mostly peaceful demonstrations continued for months, but sporadic rioting caused more than $500m (£358m) in property damage.

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