By Anand Vasu
It took just a little over 10 hours of deliberations for the jurors in the trial of former policeman Derek Chauvin to bring an end to a courtroom drama that has gripped the world for the past three weeks.
There were emotional scenes outside the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, and tears of joy and relief in countless rooms across this polarized nation as the jury of five men and seven women found Chauvin, 45, guilty on all counts — of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
In contrast to the reactions outside, there appeared to be little reaction from a masked Chauvin as he heard the guilty verdict, had his bail revoked, spoke briefly with his lawyer, and put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed and taken away, reportedly to a facility in Stillwater, Minnesota, about 25 miles east of downtown Minneapolis.
The second-degree unintentional murder charge alleged that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death “without intent” while committing or attempting to commit felony third-degree assault. Third-degree assault is defined as the intentional infliction of substantial bodily harm. The maximum prison term for second-degree murder is 40 years.
The third-degree murder charge alleged Chauvin caused Floyd’s death by “perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.” The maximum sentence for third-degree murder is up to 25 years in prison.
The second-degree manslaughter charge alleged Chauvin caused Floyd’s death by “culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm.” The second-degree manslaughter charge comes with a possible maximum of 10 years.
However, it was likely that Chauvin would not get the maximum sentence in each case, as he had no priors. Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommended 12.5 years for each of the murder charges and four years for the manslaughter. In the end it comes down to the judge to decide on the exact sentences for each charge and whether they would be served simultaneously or one after another.
While the charges vary from each other in that some have precise definitions while others were left to the interpretation of the jury, what is common to all is that the prosecutors had to prove that Chauvin was a substantial causation factor in Floyd’s death.
The prosecution made their case through the testimony of five medical experts. While some of them listed mitigating factors such as Floyd’s history of drug use, others were more emphatic. “A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died,” said Dr. Martin Tobin.
The defense contended that Floyd died while being restrained but not as a result of the restraint. “In my opinion, Mr. Floyd had a sudden cardiac arrhythmia, or cardiac arrhythmia, due to his atherosclerosis and hypertensive heart disease … during his restraint and subdual by the police,” said Dr. David Fowler, a former Maryland chief medical examiner.
The second element that was common to all three charges was that the prosecution had to prove that Chauvin used excessive and unreasonable force. This aspect was examined through the testimony of police supervisors and use-of-force experts.
The testimony of Medaria Arradondo, Minneapolis Police Chief, was crystal clear. He said that Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck was “in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy. It is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.”
Barry Brodd, a use-of-force expert testifying for the defense thought otherwise. “I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified and was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interactions with Mr. Floyd,” said Brodd.
The Floyd family hailed the verdict. Philonise Floyd, one of George Floyd’s younger brothers, said, “I feel relieved today that I finally have the opportunity for hopefully getting some sleep. It was a motion picture,” he was quoted as saying by NPR. “The world saw his life being extinguished and I could do nothing but watch. We have to march. We will have to do this for life. We have to protest because it seems like this is a never-ending cycle.”
Terrence Floyd, another younger brother, who is a bus driver in New York, was equally effusive and visibly emotional. “History is here. This is monumental. I believe because of prayer, we got the verdict we wanted. We said God, we need justice. We need it now. And he answered. I’m going to miss him but now I know he will be in history. What a day to be a Floyd!”
Rodney Floyd, the youngest of the Floyd brothers, spoke only briefly, but his words were no less powerful. “There is no color barrier on this. This is for everyone who has been held down and pinned down.”
U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement: “The jury in the state trial of Derek Chauvin has fulfilled its civic duty and rendered a verdict convicting him on all counts. While the state’s prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death.”
The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis released a statement after the verdict was reached. It said: “There are no winners in this case and we respect the jury’s decision. We need the political pandering to stop and the race baiting of elected officials to stop. In addition, we need to stop the divisive comments and we all need to do better to create a Minneapolis we love.”
President Joe Biden had commented on the trial even before the verdict was delivered. “It was a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see,” Biden was quoted as saying by the New York Times, observing that the incident had set off nationwide protests. “For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability.”