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Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd, has been sentenced to 22 years and six months for second-degree murder, closing one chapter of a case that thrust the issue of race and American policing back into the global spotlight.
The 45-year-old appeared in court on Friday, dressed in a grey suit and with a shaved head, two months after a jury found him guilty on three charges related to Floyd’s death.
The sentence, issued by the Hennepin county judge Peter Cahill, was a 10-year increase to the state’s recommended sentencing guidance for second-degree murder. Prosecutors successfully argued that Chauvin should face harsher sentencing due to a range of aggravating factors.
Cahill offered only brief remarks before delivering the sentence, saying his decision was “not based on emotion or sympathy” but adding: “I want to acknowledge the deep and tremendous pain that all the families are feeling, especially the Floyd family.”
Cahill explained his reasoning for the harsher sentence in a 22-page sentencing memorandum released by the court, writing: “Part of the mission of the Minneapolis police department is to give citizens ‘voice and respect’. Here, Mr Chauvin rather than pursuing the MPD mission, treated Mr Floyd without respect and denied him the dignity owed to all human beings and which he certainly would have extended to a friend or neighbor.”
The announcement followed victim impact statements from members of the Floyd family including his seven-year-old daughter Gianna. In a recorded video message, she was asked what she would say to her father today.
“It would be I miss you and I love him,” she said.
Prosecutors sought a maximum sentence of 30 years, a plea reiterated by members of the Floyd family as they delivered statements in person.
“Every day I have begged for justice to be served, reliving the execution of George, while others begged, they pleaded for officer Chauvin to simply just allow George to take a breath,” Floyd’s brother Philonise told the court. “I haven’t had a real night’s sleep because of the nightmares I constantly have hearing my brother beg and plead for his life over and over again.”
Terrence Floyd, another of George Floyd’s brothers, directly addressed the former officer, who sat before him showing little visible emotion.
“I wanted to know from the man himself, why? What were you thinking? What was going through your head when you had your knee on my brother’s neck. When you knew that he posed no threat any more, he was handcuffed, why you didn’t at least get up, why you stayed there?”
Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general whose office brought the case to trial, described the sentence as “one of the longest a former police officer has ever received for an unlawful use of deadly force”. He called it “another moment of real accountability on the road to justice”.
“My hope for Derek Chauvin is that he uses his long sentence to reflect on his choices and his life,” Ellison said. “My hope is that he will be able to find it within himself to acknowledge the impact of his choices on George Floyd, his family, his fellow police officers, and the world.”
The famed civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the Floyd family and other victims of police violence, described the punishment as a “historic sentence [that] brings the Floyd family and our nation one step closer to healing by delivering closure and accountability”.
Floyd’s sister Bridgett Floyd said in a statement: “The sentence handed down today to the Minneapolis police officer who killed my brother George Floyd shows that matters of police brutality are finally being taken seriously. However, we have a long way to go and many changes to make before Black and brown people finally feel like they are being treated fairly and humanely by law enforcement in this country.”
Under Minnesota “good behaviour” law, Chauvin could serve only two-thirds of the sentence in prison with the rest under licensed release. Earlier on Friday, judge Cahill rejected a motion by defence attorneys for a new trial.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, requested the court issue a probatory sentence only.
Chauvin spoke briefly to the court, suggesting that “additional legal matters” prevented him from speaking at length.
“Very briefly though, I want to give my condolences to the Floyd family, there’s going to be some other information in the future that would be of interest, and I hope some things would give you some peace of mind,” he said.
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, asked for the court to show restraint and said, despite the unanimous guilty verdicts on second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter, that her son was innocent. She did not address the Floyd family.
“My son’s identity has also been reduced to that … as a racist,” she said. “I want this court to know that none of these things are true and that my son is a good man.”
She added: “The public will never know the loving and caring man he is, but his family does. Even though I have not spoken publicly, I have always supported him 100% and always will.”
Floyd’s death, on 25 May 2020, ignited racial justice protests around the US and the world. Chauvin’s trial was seen as a litmus test for police accountability.