Former policeman Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison on Friday for the murder of African American George Floyd, the killing that sparked America’s biggest demonstrations for racial justice in decades.
A jury found Chauvin, 45, guilty on April 20 of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after a trial that was widely seen as a watershed moment in the history of US policing.
The white, 45-year-old Chauvin gave his “condolences” to the Floyd family in a Minneapolis court, without apologising, before Judge Peter Cahill handed down a lesser sentence than the 30 years the prosecution had sought.
“This (jail term) is based on your abuse of a position of trust and authority and also the particular cruelty shown to George Floyd,” Cahill told Chauvin, who listened impassively.
The decision was read out at the end of a tense hearing in which the court watched a recorded message by Floyd’s seven-year-old daughter and heard from Chauvin’s mother.
The Floyd family’s lawyer called the sentencing a “historic” step towards racial reconciliation in the United States.
“(It) brings the Floyd family and our nation one step closer to healing by delivering closure and accountability,” Ben Crump tweeted.
22.5 YEARS! This historic sentence brings the Floyd family and our nation one step closer to healing by delivering closure and accountability.
Biden calls sentence ‘appropriate’
President Joe Biden said: “I don’t know all the circumstances that were considered but it seems to me, under the guidelines, that seems to be appropriate.”
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton said it sent “a message of accountability,” despite being less than what the family wanted.
Prosecutors had asked for a 30-year prison sentence, double the upper limit indicated in sentencing guidelines for a first-time offender. The defence had asked for probation.
Video shocked the world
Video of Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in handcuffs, for more than nine minutes caused outrage around the world and the largest protest movement seen in the United States in decades.
In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general’s office wrote that Chauvin’s crime “shocked the conscience of the Nation”.
Floyd’s family describes pain, grief in court
Earlier Friday, Floyd’s family spoke in court of the pain they felt over his murder and asked for the maximum punishment for Chauvin.
“We don’t want to see no more slaps on the wrist. We’ve been through that already,” said a tearful Terrence Floyd, one of Floyd’s brothers.
Floyd’s nephew Brandon Williams said: “Our family is forever broken.” And Floyd’s 7-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a video played in court, said that if she could say something to her father now, it would be: “I miss you and and I love you.”
Prosecutor Matthew Frank asked the judge to exceed sentencing guidelines and give Chauvin 30 years in prison, saying “tortured is the right word” for what the officer did to Floyd.
“This is not a momentary gunshot, punch to the face. This is 9½ minutes of cruelty to a man who was helpless and just begging for his life,” Frank said.
Chauvin’s mother pleads for mercy
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, took the stand to plead for mercy for her son, saying his reputation has been unfairly reduced to that of “an aggressive, heartless and uncaring person” and a racist.
“I will be here for you when you come home,” she said.
The concrete barricades, razor wire and National Guard patrols at the courthouse during Chauvin’s three-week trial in the spring were gone Friday, reflecting an easing of tensions since the verdict in April.
Before the sentencing Friday, the judge denied Chauvin’s request for a new trial. Defence attorney Eric Nelson had argued that the intense publicity tainted the jury pool and that the trial should have been moved away from Minneapolis.