Grace Worwa – Staff Writer
Trigger Warning: Death
A jury found Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts last Tuesday in the murder of George Floyd.
Last May, a video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes during an arrest drew international outrage. Now, after three weeks of courtroom testimony and ten hours of jury deliberations, Chauvin has been convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
So, what do these convictions mean? And what comes next?
The first count–second-degree unintentional murder–is also called felony murder. It means that Chauvin killed Floyd while committing felony (or third-degree) assault, according to ABC News. In other words, Chauvin didn’t intend to kill Floyd, but he did intend to apply unlawful force that caused bodily harm.
The second count was third-degree murder. This means that “Chauvin caused Floyd’s death through an action that was “eminently dangerous” and carried it out with a reckless disregard for and conscious indifference to human life.
Lastly, second-degree manslaughter means that “Chauvin caused Floyd’s death through culpable negligence that created an unreasonable risk, and that he consciously took the chance of causing severe injury or death,” according to ABC News.
In essence, the verdict means that Chauvin’s actions consisted of unreasonable force and were substantial in causing Floyd’s death.
In order to prove their case, prosecutors relied heavily on the video of Floyd’s death and witness testimony in order to relay to the jury what happened on that day. According to NPR, many witnesses expressed feelings of helplessness and guilt as they recalled the events of that day.
The prosecution also called Floyd’s girlfriend Courtney Ross and his brother Philonise Floyd to speak on behalf of Floyd’s life and character.
In addition, prosecutors had several medical experts explain that Floyd had died from lack of oxygen due to Chauvin’s restraint. They also had law enforcement experts testify that Chauvin’s use of force was unreasonable and excessive. Several current and former members of the Minneapolis Police Department said that Chauvin’s method of restraint was not part of their police training, and a use of force expert said that Chauvin’s use of force was disproportionate to the crime and to Floyd’s behavior, according to NPR.
On the other hand, defense attorney Eric Nelson argued that Chauvin had been following his training and Minneapolis Police Department policy. He called a former police officer to the stand who said as such, according to NPR.
Nelson tried to show that Chauvin’s actions were justified because “Floyd was big, under the influence of something, could start fighting, and that nearby bystanders presented a threat,” according to ABC News.
Lastly, the defense attorney attempted to demonstrate that Chauvin’s actions had not caused Floyd’s death. He called a medical expert to the stand who said that he would declare Floyd’s cause of death to be “undetermined” because underlying heart issues and drug use may have been involved.
Chavuin declined to testify on his own behalf. After the guilty verdicts were announced on Tuesday, May 20, Chauvin was immediately handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom. Outside the courthouse, a crowd of several hundred “erupted into cheers,” and people gathered at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis screamed and clapped in celebration, according to Reuters.
The Chauvin case is seen by many as a referendum on police accountability.
“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,” Reuters said.
However, while the guilty verdict may signal a turning point, recent weeks have made all too clear that the U.S. still has a lot of work to do in the face of racial injustice.
On April 11, a young black man named Daunte Wright was shot and killed by police officer Kimberly Potter during a routine traffic stop, mere miles from where Chauvin trial was taking place. Potter has resigned and faces charges of manslaughter.
13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago, IL and 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio were also killed by police in recent weeks.
After the verdict, President Joe Biden himself tweeted that it has the potential to “be a giant step forward in the march toward justice in America.”
However, it can only be a step forward if we make it so.
“We have to protest because it seems like this is a never-ending cycle,” Philonise Floyd said.
In the meantime, the next step in the Chauvin case is sentencing. Under Minnesota guidelines, Chauvin would face 12.5 years in prison for his murder conviction as a first-time offender. However, the guidelines also allow the sentence to be varied per the judge’s discretion.
According to ABC, prosecutors in this case plan to ask for a longer prison sentence; they will cite several “aggravating factors” such as the fact that “Chauvin was a uniformed officer acting in a position of authority, and that his crime was witnessed by multiple children.”
Prosecutors could potentially ask for up to forty years in prison, the maximum sentence for second-degree murder.
Chauvin’s sentencing is expected to happen in about seven weeks. He is also expected to appeal the verdict, a process which could take about a year, according to ABC.