Sacked police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter Tuesday in the death of African-American George Floyd in a case that roiled the United States for almost a year, laying bare deep racial divisions.
A racially-diverse jury of seven women and five men in the Midwestern city of Minneapolis took less than two days at the end of a three-week trial to find the white officer guilty in unanimous decisions on all three charges he faced.
Chauvin, 45, could be handed decades behind bars for Floyd’s May 25, 2020 killing, which sparked protests against racial injustice around the world and is being seen as a landmark test of police accountability.
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!”
Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, faces a maximum of 40 years in prison on the most serious of three charges he faced — second-degree murder.
He was seen on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the 46-year-old Black man lay handcuffed facedown in the street complaining he “can’t breathe.”
The harrowing video, which was shown repeatedly to the jury during Chauvin’s three-week trial, sparked protests against racial injustice and police brutality around the world.
The courtroom drama played out before the eyes of the nation as Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot dead in a Minneapolis suburb by a white policewoman who apparently mistook her gun for her Taser, and a 13-year-old boy was killed by police in Chicago.
Wright’s killing triggered several nights of protests in Minneapolis, and ahead of a verdict in Chauvin’s case National Guard troops were deployed in the Minnesota city where shop windows have been boarded up as a precaution, as well as in the capital, Washington.
Among the 38 witnesses who testified for the prosecution were some of the bystanders who watched Floyd’s May 25, 2020 arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy a pack of cigarettes.
Darnella Frazier, the teenager who took the video that went viral, said Floyd was “scared” and “begging for his life.”
“It wasn’t right. He was suffering,” Frazier said.
Chauvin attended every day of the trial — dressed in a suit and taking notes on a yellow legal pad — but spoke only once to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
A conviction on any of the charges — second-degree murder, third-degree murder or manslaughter — will require the jury to return a unanimous verdict.
The racially diverse jury was made up of six white women, three Black men, three white men, two mixed race women and one Black woman.
Three other former police officers — Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng — also face charges in connection with Floyd’s death.
They are to be tried separately later in the year.