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A Minnesota judge on Friday sentenced former police officer Kim Potter to two years in prison, far less than what was sought by prosecutors in the fatal shooting of Black motorist Daunte Wright.
Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu handed down the punishment for the former Brooklyn Center police officer after emotional courtroom statements from the victim's loved ones and the defendant herself.
Chu ordered Potter to spend two-thirds of her sentence behind bars and one-third of it on supervised release. She's already served 58 days behind bars, which will go to her credit.
Potter's online Department of Corrections records were quickly updated after Friday morning's sentencing, showing she will likely walk free on April 24 next year.
Chu said Potter deserved less than the 86-month sentence sought by prosecutors because the officer was trying to use her Taser and not her gun.
The judge said she knows her ruling will be unpopular.
“I recognize there will be those who disagree with the sentence; that I granted a significant downward departure, does not in any way diminish Daunte Wright’s life,” Chu said.
The judge said she's never seen a case like this before.
"This is one of the saddest cases that I’ve had in my 20 years on the bench," Chu said.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, in a lengthy statement issued hours after sentencing, walked a fine line between sympathizing with prosecutors and Wright's family — while also urging all parties to "accept" Judge Chu's ruling.
"Judge Chu heard from the witnesses and attorneys on both sides," Ellison said. "I accept her judgment. I urge everyone to accept her judgment. I don’t ask you to agree with her decision, which takes nothing away from the truth of the jury’s verdict."
Outside court, the victim’s mother, Katie Wright, said "the justice system murdered him all over again."
The grieving mom appeared to discount the tears Potter shed in court as the former police officer apologized for her deadly actions.
“This isn’t OK,” she said. “This is the problem with our justice system today. White women’s tears trumps, trumps justice. And I thought my white woman tears would be good enough because they’re true and genuine.”
Ben Crump, an attorney for the family, was particularly angered by Potter's sentence, compared to the 57-month punishment against former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor.
Noor, a Somali immigrant, was convicted of shooting a 911 caller, mistaking her as a threat to his partner.
"He was remorseful but they didn’t make a downward departure for the Black police officer like they made for this white policewoman," Crump said. "And that’s problematic for many people of color in America. That we continue to see this intellectual justification."
Before sentence was issued, Wright’s mother asked a judge to send her son’s killer to prison, telling Potter that she’ll “never be able to forgive you for what you’ve stolen from us.”
“Daunte Wright is my son, my baby boy and I say ‘is’ and not ‘was’ because he will always be my son and I’m proud to say that,” Katie Wright told the court. “Daunte’s smile was genuine and big, just like his dreams. You took them. You took his future.”
Potter, 49, has been in custody since just before Christmas last year, when jurors convicted her of first-degree manslaughter for the April 11, 2021, slaying of 20-year-old Wright in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center.
The victim’s father, Arbuey Wright, told the court he loved his son.
"I was so proud to be his father. He was handsome, he was my son, my prince,” he said. “He was my reason to do better. He was my reason to change in life.”
Wright was pulled over and police tried to arrest him on an outstanding weapons charge when he tried to get back into his car.
During a brief struggle, Potter — with a Glock holstered her right, dominant side, and her Taser on the left — pulled the firearm and fatally shot Wright.
A sobbing Potter on Friday apologized to Wright's loved ones.
"To the family of Daunte Wright, I am so sorry that I brought the death of your son, brother, father, uncle, grandson, nephew and the rest of your family to your home," she said.
"Katie I understand a mother’s love and I am sorry I broke your heart."
Defense lawyer Paul Engh called Potter's act "an unintentional crime" and said his client is a suitable candidate for probation and not prison.
“This (case) is beyond tragic for everyone involved,” Engh told the court.
Potter sat at the defense table wearing a purple sweater and a blue paper medical mask.
Engh challenged claims by the prosecution and victim's family that Potter didn't show concern for Wright after she shot him.
"She was remorseful from the moment the gun was fired," he said. “We can’t have a Kafkaesque standard of what remorse is.”
Potter has been held in isolation for her own protection, the defense said. Engh showed the judge a box of "thousands" of sympathetic letters and cards mailed to Potter.
“People took the time to write her,” he said. “This is unheard of for a defendant. I dare say no one in this room has ever seen anything like this.”
But prosecutor Matthew Frank said the crime's impact cannot be understated, whether intentional or not.
“His name is Daunte Wright. We have to say his name. He’s not just the driver he was a living human being, a life," Frank said.
“The highest principle of law enforcement is the sanctity of life. His life counted. His life mattered. And that life was taken and the law recognized the severity of the loss of life when setting criminal penalties.”
Frank choked back emotion as he told Chu that this case demands significant prison time.
"This is a courtroom full of pain and anger," he said. "How do we fix that? What can we do? "
Wright was gunned down about 10 miles north of the courthouse where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was tried for killing George Floyd.
Days later, Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter. The May 25, 2020 killing of Floyd, a Black man, touched off a summer of national protests against police brutality and institutional racism.
Potter’s trial was held in the same courtroom where Chauvin was tried.