MINNEAPOLIS — The jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin convicted the former Minneapolis police officer of murder in the death of George Floyd, a step toward finality in a landmark case that riveted a nation wrestling with the issues of police brutality and racial injustice it raised.
After deliberating for less than 12 hours, the jury returned its verdict Tuesday on Chauvin, a white former officer who was charged with manslaughter, second-degree murder and third-degree murder in the death of Floyd, a Black man. Chauvin, 45, could be sentenced to 40 years in prison.
The verdict was delivered to a city and nation on edge, with demonstrators outside the fortified downtown Minneapolis courthouse and law enforcement around the country bracing for widespread protests.
The harrowing death of Floyd in police custody May 25, captured on bystander video, led to massive protests across the U.S. — from Los Angeles to New York, Miami to Seattle — and in other nations. Young and old, people of all races and religions marched with the same mission: justice.
In the graphic video, which was presented as evidence during the trial, several bystanders urged Chauvin — who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes — to stop applying pressure. Before his body went limp on the pavement, Floyd, 46, also pleaded with the officer, telling him he couldn’t breathe.
Prosecutors here in Minneapolis called dozens of witnesses — people at the scene, law enforcement, medical experts — to prove their case that Chauvin’s force was excessive and not in line with police department policy.
Chauvin’s defense attorneys sought to focus on Floyd’s drug use and heart problems, arguing that those factors caused his death.
The conviction of Chauvin for murder is rare: Most officers charged with killing people while on duty are acquitted. In recent years, two separate police officers in Dallas County who killed unarmed Black people were convicted of murder.
The Chauvin verdict arrives at a crucial moment in this country as a heightened focus on police brutality has led to calls to defund police departments and overhaul policing in some of the nation’s largest cities.
In December, the Minneapolis City Council voted to divert nearly $8 million of the department’s $180 million budget to community-based approaches to policing. Last month, the city announced it would also pay Floyd’s family $27 million in a settlement.
The jury’s decision Tuesday came amid increased anguish in the Minneapolis area. Last week, 10 miles from the courthouse where Chauvin’s trial played out, a white officer in the suburb of Brooklyn Center shot and killed 20-year-old Black resident Daunte Wright. Officials said the officer, a 26-year veteran, mistook her gun for her Taser.
She has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. For several nights, protesters have taken to the streets here in the Twin Cities calling on prosecutors to increase the charges to include murder.