- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A Minneapolis jury on Tuesday found Derek Chauvin guilty of all charges in the death of George Floyd, reaching a verdict after less than a day of deliberations in a case that ignited mass protests and calls for police reform across the nation.

Hennepin County Court Judge Peter Cahill read the guilty verdicts on the three counts: unintentional second-degree murder; third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.

The 45-year-old Chauvin showed no visible reaction to the jury’s decision, which could send him to prison for the rest of his life. He was handcuffed and sent to prison shortly after the verdict was read and the jurors excused. He will be sentenced in eight weeks.

Judge Cahill thanked the jurors “not only for jury service, but for heavy-duty jury service.”

Protesters and onlookers who gathered outside the Hennepin County courthouse could be seen pumping fists, hugging and cheering after the verdict was announced and word spread, while President Biden said that the outcome is a “step forward” but that the United States still has a ways to go in confronting the country’s “systemic racism.”

“Today’s verdict is a step forward,” Mr. Biden said in a speech from the White House. “No one should be above the law and today’s verdict send that message. But it’s not enough. We can’t stop here.”

Mr. Biden and Democrats cited the verdict in renewing calls for the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, approved 220-212 last month by the House, which would end qualified immunity for police. 

“A guilty verdict does not bring back George,” the president said. “But through the family’s pain, they’re finding purpose so George’s legacy will not be just about his death, but about what we must do in his memory.”

Law enforcement in major U.S. cities had braced for protest activity following the verdict in a case that upended the nation, triggering national and international protests, fueling the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and calls to defund the police, and transforming Floyd into a civil-rights martyr.

The jury of seven women and five men began deliberating late Monday after receiving the case following closing arguments, spending about 10 hours considering the evidence and apparently asking no questions of the judge in what was described by legal experts as a speedy turnaround.

The trial itself lasted 14 days, with the prosecution calling 38 witnesses in 11 days and the defense bringing seven witnesses in two days in the racially charged case, but the star witness was video that showed Chauvin pinning Floyd to the pavement for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

Chauvin, who is White, sought to subdue Floyd, who was Black, during the May 25 arrest for passing a counterfeit $20 bill outside a Cup Foods by kneeling on or near the back of his neck while the 46-year-old Floyd was handcuffed and lying face-down on the pavement.

The defense argued that Floyd may have died from a heart condition or drug overdose, but the jury didn’t buy it.

Prosecutors needed to prove that the force applied by Chauvin was a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death to be found guilty of second-degree murder, not that it was the only factor.

For second-degree murder, the maximum sentence is 40 years, while third-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 25 years, and second-degree manslaughter is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Ben Crump, attorney for the Floyd family, noted that the three other former Minneapolis officers charged in Floyd’s death still face trial, saying they “must still be held accountable.”

“Justice for Black America is justice for all America,” Mr. Crump said. “This case is a turning point in American history for accountability of law enforcement and sends a clear message we hope is heard clearly in every city and every state.”

Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, joined other family members in saying afterward that the guilty verdict means justice was served.

“I get DMs, people from Brazil, from Ghana, from Germany — everybody,” he said. “They’re all saying the same thing: ‘We won’t be able to breathe until you’re able to breathe.’ Today, we are able to breathe again.”

The Black Lives Matter Global Network was more critical of the judicial process, saying that it took “330 days to confirm what we already knew.”

“This isn’t proof the system works. It’s proof of how broken it is,” said the group in a statement. “Because it took us this long, and this much attention. Until we have a world where our communities can thrive free from fear, there will be no justice.”

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher wrapped up the case Monday by refuting defense assertions that Floyd died of a drug overdose or heart disease, calling his death a “straight-up felony assault.”

“Believe your eyes. What you saw happen, happened,” said Mr. Schleicher, referring to the video footage of Floyd’s death.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson countered that his client “did not purposely use unlawful force,” saying the officers at the scene were “doing their job in a highly stressful situation, according to the training, according to the policies of the Minneapolis Police Department. And it’s tragic.”

The viral video of the incident touched off mass U.S. protests in most major cities, causing an estimated $1-2 billion in damage from the rioting and looting that accompanied some peaceful protests, and sparking calls for police reform.

Vice President Kamala D. Harris, who spoke before Mr. Biden on Tuesday evening, said that “today, we feel a sigh of relief. Still, it cannot take away the pain. A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice.”

Ms. Harris, who had filibustered a police-reform bill last year being pushed by Sen. Tim Scott, South Carolina Republican, said the Democratic policing billshe and Mr. Biden pushed will be part of Floyd’s “legacy.”

The legislation, which bars officers from using chokeholds and “no-knock” warrants, among other provisions, does not currently have the 60 votes needed to thwart a filibuster in the 50-50 Senate.

Before the verdict, Mr. Biden said that he contacted the Floyd family on Monday, after the jury had been sequestered, and that he was praying for “the right verdict.”

“They’re a good family, and they’re calling for peace and tranquility, no matter what that verdict is,” Mr. Biden told reporters. “I’m praying that verdict is the right verdict, which I think it’s overwhelming, in my view. I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now.”

The city of Minneapolis announced March 12, about two weeks before jury selection began, that it had reached a city-record $27 million settlement in a civil lawsuit filed by the Floyd family. 

Chauvin’s conduct was widely condemned even on the pro-police right as soon as the video was released, and several police witnesses testified against him. And on Tuesday, two of the nation’s largest law enforcement groups said the guilty verdict is proof the justice system works, even for police officers.

The National Association of Police Organizations said the jury’s decision “conclusively demonstrates that officers can be, and in fact, are held tho the standards of justice as other citizens in our nation.”

The National Fraternal Order Police, the country’s largest police union, echoed similar sentiments.

“Our system of justice worked as it should,” the group said in a statement.“

“The trial was fair and due process was served,” the statement read. “We hope and expect that all of our fellow citizens will respect the rule of law and remain peaceful tonight and in the days to come.”

The jury was sequestered Monday for its deliberations, but not during the trial, a decision that was second-guessed after a fresh wave of protests swept the metro region following the April 11 death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who was shot by an officer during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.

Judge Cahill raised the possibility Monday that a guilty verdict could be overturned on appeal over fiery comments made last weekend by Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, who joined a Brooklyn Center protest and said activists should “get more confrontational” unless Chauvin was found guilty of murder.

“I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” Judge Cahill told the court.

The judge also said that elected officials should give their opinions in a “respectful manner,” and that “their failure to do so I think is abhorrent, but I don’t think it has prejudiced us.”

“They have been told not to watch the news. I trust they are following those instructions, and that there is not in any way a prejudice to the defendant,” said the judge.

Ms. Waters said Saturday he should be found guilty of murder, not manslaughter, preferably first-degree murder, a charge not filed by the prosecution.

“Not manslaughter — no, no,” Ms. Waters said. “This is guilty for murder. I don’t know whether it’s in the first degree but as far as I’m concerned, it’s first-degree murder.”

The Black Lives Matter protests last summer over Floyd’s death including calls to defund the police, but Mr. Schleicher told jurors that they should not view the Chauvin trial as a referendum on law enforcement.

“He did what he did on purpose, and it killed George Floyd,” said Mr. Schleicher. “He betrayed the badge and everything it stood for. This is not an anti-police prosecution. It’s a pro-police prosecution.”

⦁ Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.

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