Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer, was convicted on Tuesday of murdering African-American George Floyd after a racially charged trial that was seen as a pivotal test of police accountability in the United States.
A jury deliberated less than 11 hours before finding the 45-year-old Chauvin guilty of all three charges against him — second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
A crowd gathered outside the heavily guarded downtown Minneapolis courtroom erupted in cheers when the verdicts were announced after Chauvin’s three-week trial.
Chauvin, who had been free on bail, was put in handcuffs after Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill read out the unanimous verdicts reached by the racially diverse seven-woman five-man jury.
Chauvin, who was wearing a facemask when the verdicts were read and displayed no visible emotion, was escorted out of the courtroom by a deputy as George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, embraced prosecutors.
Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison on the most serious charge — second-degree murder. Sentencing will be at a later date.
Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis police force, was seen on video kneeling on the neck of Floyd for more than nine minutes as he lay handcuffed on the ground saying repeatedly “I can’t breathe.”
Cities across the United States had been braced for potential unrest as the verdict was awaited in the closely watched trial and Minneapolis is under an unprecedented security lockdown.
Floyd family lawyer Ben Crump hailed the verdict as a landmark victory for civil rights that could be a springboard to legislation to reform police forces in their dealings with minorities.
“Painfully earned justice has finally arrived for George Floyd’s family. This verdict is a turning point in history and sends a clear message on the need for accountability of law enforcement,” Crump tweeted.
“Justice for Black America is justice for all of America!”
Speaking to reporters ahead of the verdict, President Joe Biden said he hoped for the “right” decision.
Biden told reporters he had spoken with the Floyd family by telephone and said “I can only imagine the pressure and anxiety they’re feeling. So I waited till the jury was sequestered and I called.”
“They’re a good family and they’re calling for peace and tranquility, no matter what that verdict is,” Biden said.
– National Guard deployed –
Prosecutors and the defense presented closing arguments on Monday.
In his final instructions to the jury, Judge Cahill noted the gravity of the case, which took place amid heightened tensions fueled by other police killings.
“You must not let bias, prejudice, passion, sympathy or public opinion influence your decision,” Cahill said. “You must not consider any consequences or penalties that might follow from your verdict.”
Three other former police officers involved in Floyd’s arrest — he had allegedly just tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill in a store — are to go on trial later this year.
National Guard troops have been deployed in Minneapolis and Washington, the nation’s capital.
Minneapolis has been the scene of nightly protests since Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot dead in a suburb of the Minnesota city on April 11 by a white policewoman.
In Washington, the National Guard said some 250 troops were being deployed “to support local law enforcement” in response to potential demonstrations.
Prosecutors, in closing arguments on Monday, showed excerpts from the harrowing bystander video of Floyd’s death that was seen by millions around the world.
“This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher told the jury.
“You can believe your eyes,” Schleicher said. “It’s exactly what you knew, it’s what you felt in your gut, it’s what you now know in your heart.”
“This wasn’t policing, this was murder,” Schleicher said. “Nine minutes and 29 seconds of shocking abuse of authority.”
Among the 38 witnesses who testified for the prosecution were some of the bystanders who watched Floyd’s May 25, 2020 arrest.
Darnella Frazier, the teenager who took the video that went viral, said Floyd was “scared” and “begging for his life.”