For the last few weeks, the US Court system has seen one of its most prolific cases. Following the death of George Floyd on May 25th 2020, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been on trial for 15 days.
This comes after videos of Chauvin kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck went viral and sparked international anger and protests for the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement was first started in 2016 in a similar case and is an international movement that fights against racial inequality, particularly in cases of systemic racism.
The verdict of the trial
On the 20th April 2021, almost a year later, Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three charges: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. His bail was immediately revoked, and he was placed in custody. The sentencing will follow in the next couple of months. It is likely that Chauvin will spend decades in jail.
The jury of 12 took less than a day to reach their verdict, following a very strenuous, emotional, and heartwrenching trial. Police chiefs, witnesses, and members of Floyd’s close circle have spoken in his place and support.
In Minnesota, second-degree murder carries a max sentence of 40 years, third-degree murder is punishable by up to 25 years, and second-degree manslaughter by up to 10 years.
Courts and media expect Chauvin to appeal against the verdict. His ex-coworkers, who were also present on the day of George Floyd’s death will face trial later this year. They’ve been charged with aiding-and-abetting.
What was the reaction?
As the verdict was announced, several hundred people waiting outside of the courts cheered. The prosecuting lawyer, Ben Crump, claimed that this verdict marked a “turning point in history” for the USA. He then went on to tweet that “painfully earned justice has finally arrived”.
As well as lawyers and supporters, President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris called the Floyd family following the announcement of the verdict. Mr Biden reportedly said, “at least now there is some justice”. He then appeared on national television, where he went on to say: “Systemic racism is a stain on the whole nation’s soul”.
The Minneapolis Police Federation, a not-for-profit organisation that represents the police force, said that they respected the decision. They spoke about wanting to reach out and express remorse for the community’s pain.
Activists are expressing much joy at the verdict, considering how few officers are ever actually charged with manslaughter or murder, and even fewer are convicted.
One of the ways that Chauvin could escape this verdict would be to appeal. His lawyer could have grounds for appeal if they argue that the publicity of the trial might have influenced the jury. Judge Peter Cahill also said that public comments made by a Democrat Congresswomen could also be further grounds for Chauvin to appeal. On Monday she said that protestors should “stay on the street” and “get more confrontational” if Chauvin were to be acquitted.
The key events from the trial
The video of the arrest
Arguably the most powerful testimony came early on in the trial. The prosecutors called witnesses to the stand, including Darnella, the 17-year-old who filmed the viral video of George Floyd’s arrest. Darnella told the jury how guilty she felt for not doing more, and that there have been nights where she apologised to Mr Floyd for not doing more. She went on to say that when she sees Mr Floyd, she sees her dad, brothers, cousins and uncles, who are all also black men.
There was also emotional testimony from Charles McMillian, the 61-year-old man who tried to help the situation by convincing the claustrophobic George Floyd into the police car. He said he’d felt “helpless”, and that he knew what he watched was wrong.
Courteney Ross’ testimony
George Floyd’s girlfriend of three years, Ms Ross, took the stand during the 15-day trial. She described their first meeting, where Mr Floyd had been working as a security guard for a Salvation Army homeless shelter. Ms Ross went on to tell the jury how devastated by his mother’s death in 2018.
Courteney Ross went on to tell the court how both she and Mr Floys suffered from chronic pain, which caused their recurring opioid addiction. The prosecution hoped this would show the judge and jury that Mr Floyd’s tolerance for pain medication, like the fentanyl found in his system at the time of autopsy, was high. This would then counteract the defence’s argument that MR Floyd died due to opioid complications and methamphetamine.
The head of Minneapolis police, Chief Medaria Arradondo, was one of the prosecution’s witnesses. He was who fired Derek Chauvin from the Minneapolis Police Department a day after the arrest. He told the court that Chauvin’s use of force was unnecessary and that the officer could, and should have, stopped using force when Mr Floyd stopped resisting.
This opposed Barry Brodd’s testimony, an expert in the use of force. Brodd said the use of force was “justified”, but also that all officers know the risk of asphyxia when using certain positions to restrain.
Cause of death
The cause of death was expected to be a key point in the trial. The prosecution argued that Mr Floyd died of asphyxia, whilst the defence pointed to Mr Floyd’s drug use and poor health.
Dr Martin Tobin, an expert in pulmonary medicine, demonstrated to the court exactly what was happening to Mr Floyd’s breathing as he lay beneath Chauvin’s knee for 9 and a half minutes. He stated that even “a healthy person, subjected to what Mr Floyd was subjected to, would have died”.
Between carbon monoxide poisoning, drug use, poor health and asphyxiation, forensic pathologist David Fowler argued that the cause of death should be classified as undetermined.
But under cross-examination, he agreed that there was a chance to save Mr Floyd’s life, and that he should have been given medical attention when he went into cardiac arrest.