Chao Xiong and Paul Walsh
UPDATE: Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin has been sentenced to 22 and half years in prison in the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
MINNEAPOLIS – Sentencing began Friday for fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd last year, with Floyd’s family members telling the court of the lasting trauma and impact of the events of May 25, 2020 and Chauvin delivering a brief statement.
After Floyd’s family and the prosecution spoke, Chauvin gave brief remarks before Cahill is expected to deliver the sentence.
“At this time due to some additional legal matters at hand I’m not able to really give a full formal statement at this time,” he said. “Briefly though, I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family. There’s gonna be some other information in the future that would be of interest and I hope things will give you some peace of mind. Thank you.”
Judge Peter Cahill is expected to hand down the sentence after a brief break.
The first victim impact statement was Floyd’s 7-year-old daughter, Gianna, who said via remote video that “I ask about him all the time.”
In response to questions from an adult off-camera, she said she wants to know, “How did my daddy get hurt?” Asked what she would tell her father when she sees him again someday, she said: “It would be I miss you and I love him.”
Floyd’s nephew, Brandon Williams, was next, and said the family’s pain was unimaginable, but not as unimaginable as what Chauvin did to Floyd.
“You may see us cry but the full extent of our pain and trauma will never convey the pain we have suffered,” Williams said. ” … George’s murder, this trial and everything in between have been tragically devastating. Our family is forever broken and one thing we cannot get back is George Floyd.”
Brother Terrence Floyd followed, consumed by emotion and said, “Over this last year and months I actually talk to a few people. I wanted to know from the man himself, ‘Why? What were you thinking? What was going through your head when you have your knee on my brother’s neck, when you knew that he imposed no threat anymore while he was handcuffed. … Why did you stay there?”
The brother said he spoke with George Floyd on the phone about a month before the death on May 25, 2020, “and we had a long conversation. … He wanted to have play dates and plan play dates with Gianna and my daughter. We started to set that up. That can’t happen.”
He said that when the time comes for him to tell his daughter what happened, that will be “hard than even to stand here.”
As for Chauvin’s punishment “we seek the maximum penalty. We don’t want to see smacks on the wrist. We’ve seen that already.”
Another brother, Philonise Floyd, closed out the family’s statements, saying, “I began to speak to the word for George for the United Nations, Africa, Canada, Japan and so many other countries. Everyday, I have begged for justice to be served for the execution of George, while others begged and pleaded for George to take a breath.”
He closed by saying, “George’s life mattered, so my family — and all most of all my niece Gianna, she needs closure. I’m asking that you please find it … to give officer Chauvin the maximum sentence possible.
“My family and I have been given a life sentence. We will never be able to get George back. … He will never be able to walk Gianna down the aisle at her wedding.”
Prosecutor Matthew Frank pressed for a sentence well above what state guidelines recommend but first thanked Minneapolis police officers for coming forward to testify, not hiding behind the “blue wall of silence. He said the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension went “above and beyond the call of duty” in investigating Floyd’s death.
Then he thanked the loved ones and friends of George Floyd.
“They have been through so much more than families involved in murder cases. It’s a fraternity you don’t want to be a part of, but they’ve been through so much more because of pandemic, because of security, and safety precautions they have to take. They have been though a lot,” Frank said. “I thank them. They have been models of grace and understanding, and it’s really remarkable, quite frankly.”
Frank walked through the four aggravating factors, starting with the fact that Chauvin was in a position of authority as a police officer.
“This case wasn’t about all police officers; it wasn’t about policing, this case was about Derek Chauvin disregarding all that training he received and assaulting Mr. Floyd until he suffocated to death,” he said. Regarding that Floyd’s killing involved particular cruelty, another aggravating factor, Frank said: “I think torture is the right word.”
Frank then went through each of the four aggravating factors that Cahill affirmed that could lead to Chauvin’s sentence topping state guideline recommendations.
The prosecutor said Chauvin employed “a particularly aggressive use of force. … I think torture is the right word.”
He said Floyd “was suffocated, there’s no other way to say it. It was particularly cruel … this 9½ minutes of cruelty to a man who was helpless and begging for his life.”
Speaking specifically about what the sentence should be, Frank said to the judge that the defense’s argument for probation is “so outside the realm of possibility. This is murder.”
He then called for a 30-year prison sentence for Chauvin, double what the guidelines call for.
Chauvin’s defense began its arguments for leniency with a statement from his mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, who told the court: “When you sentence my son, you will also be sentencing me.”
“Derek devoted 19 years of his life to the Minneapolis Police Department. It has been difficult for me to read and hear what the media, public and prosecution team believe Derek to be an aggressive, heartless, uncaring person. I can tell you that is far from the truth,” she said, before addressing him and recalling that her happiest moment other than giving birth to him was pinning his police badge on him upon becoming an officer.
“My son’s identity has also been reduced to that as a racist,” she said in her first public comments since Floyd’s death. “I want this court to know that none of these things are true and my son is a good man. … He has a big heart and always put others ahead of his own.”
Pawlenty said she believes in her son’s innocence, and “I will never waver from that.”
Defense attorney Eric Nelson then made a plea that mitigating factors be taken into consideration when sentencing Chauvin.
“As I believe we are all cognizant of this case is at the epicenter of a political and cultural divide,” Nelson said, adding that he has received thousands of emails and voicemails. “The impact that this case has had on this community is profound it goes far beyond what happened on May 25 of last year, it has been at the forefront of our national consciousness and has weaved its way into nearly every facet of our lives from the entertainment that we consume to presidential politics.”
In a two-page order issued Friday morning, Judge Peter Cahill rejected defense attorney Eric Nelson’s motions before Chauvin’s sentencing is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. Chauvin, 45, will be sentenced on one count of second-degree unintentional murder. Jurors also convicted him on April 20 of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Nelson had argued in a May filing that Chauvin should receive a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct, judicial error and impropriety by jurors. He also requested a Schwartz hearing, a proceeding in which jurors are recalled to court and questioned about possible misconduct.
Nelson’s filing came after juror Brandon Mitchell went public about his role in the case, prompting many commentators to criticize him for attending last August’s 57th anniversary of the March on Washington to commemorated Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech” and included events rallying support for police reform and featuring Floyd’s family members, among others.
Nelson also wrote that Cahill abused his discretion by denying Chauvin’s request for a change of venue before trial began, rejecting a previous request Nelson made for a new trial, failing to sequester jurors for the entirety of the trial and refusing to compel Floyd’s friend to testify at trial.
The second-degree murder count carries a statutory maximum term of 40 years in prison, but state sentencing guidelines call for between about 10 ½ and 15 years for someone like Chauvin who has no criminal history. The presumptive term for the offense is 12 ½ years.
Many local attorneys have said they believe Chauvin will receive between 20 and 25 years in prison.
Nelson, filed a memo early this month asking for probation and time served, or alternately, less time than guidelines recommend. He argued that Chauvin deserves leniency because he has no criminal history, has a supportive family and ex-wife, and would face violence in prison.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, which is leading the prosecution, is asking for 30 years in prison, noting the four aggravating factors in the case that support a higher sentence.
The sentencing was livestreamed as was Chauvin’s six-week trial that began March 8.
Mitchell Hamline School of Law Prof. Ted Sampsell-Jones said Cahill is under “a lot” of public pressure to give close to 30 years.
“Part of what a judge is trying to do is accomplishing deterrence and sending a message … and that does take into account the impact on the community,” Sampsell-Jones said. “We have important factors in play that have never been in play before.
“This is a Minnesota case that has received national and international attention unlike any other case in Minnesota. It’s a case where the threat of violent response has hung over the entire proceeding. That’s highly unusual. You can’t deny that those things matter. You can’t deny that they have shaped the proceedings at certain points.”
The Hennepin County Government Center, where Chauvin will be sentenced, and which houses county government offices and Hennepin County courts, will be closed to the public Friday. County appointments have been moved to other locations, according to county officials. Jury trials that are in progress suspended activity Friday, and other hearings that day are occurring remotely, according to court officials.
Unprecedented security measures were place during Chauvin’s trial: courthouse access was limited to trial participants and a few employees; concrete barricades, fencing and barbed and razor wire were ringed the building and county jail; and armed National Guard members and sheriff’s deputies were stationed outside and inside. Gov. Tim Walz said there has been no request for state assistance.
Court officials won’t say how much time they’ve set aside for sentencing, but it could take an hour or two. Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office has said he expects to hold a media briefing afterward — about 2:30 p.m., 3 p.m. or later.
Before the sentence was announced, prosecutors and Nelson will reiterate their sentencing arguments, some of Floyd’s family members will likely give victim-impact statements and Chauvin will have an opportunity to address the court. Chauvin has no obligation to speak, and many veteran attorneys expect he won’t because of a pending federal case against him in Floyd’s death and a possible appeal. His statements at sentencing could be used against him in federal court or in a new state trial if one is granted.
“There’s nothing (Chauvin) can say at this sentencing that will change Judge Cahill’s mind when he comes out on the bench,” said defense attorney Joe Friedberg. “He’s already going to decide what sentence he’s going to give (Chauvin).”
Cahill will likely reject Nelson’s requests for leniency while refraining from granting the prosecution’s full request, several attorneys said.
“He’s known as a pretty fair and moderate sentencer, so he’s generally not going to give people the most sentence allowed,” Sampsell-Jones said. “Overall, judges have wide latitude for sentencing.”
Chauvin’s clean criminal history could compel Cahill to refrain from assigning Chauvin 30 years, said Joseph Daly, Mitchell Hamline School of Law emeritus professor. Daly, who believes 20 years would be a proper sentence, said defendants with a criminal history typically get more time because that indicates a propensity to reoffend.
“I think that 20 years is a really long time,” Daly said. “One of the primary functions of punishment in a crime is to deter future crime in terms of the individual who has been convicted, but also the general society — that they know that if you commit a crime you’re likely to be punished.”
Local attorneys did not expect Cahill to give the highest sentence allowed under the law — 40 years, noting that maximum terms are rare and reserved for defendants with lengthy criminal records.
Cahill reviewed five proposed aggravating factors presented by the prosecution and ruled last month that four were proven and will be considered at sentencing: Chauvin “abused a position of trust and authority” as an officer, he treated Floyd with “particular cruelty,” children were present when Floyd was pinned to the pavement at 38th and Chicago for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, and he committed the crime with three fellow officers.
Only one aggravating factor is needed for a sentence higher than guidelines recommend, but defense attorney and former Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said, “More factors serve to justify more time.”
When aggravating factors are present, it’s not uncommon for judges to magnify the presumptive term by 1½ to come up with the sentence, or, 18¾ years in this case, she said.
Before imposing the sentence, Cahill has the choice to express his views about Floyd’s murder, its impact on Floyd’s family and the community, and Chauvin’s ownership of the crime.
Cahill should deliver remarks, said Fred Fink, who was a prosecutor for 40 years in Washington and Ramsey counties and in Wisconsin.
“I think it’s important in many cases, because this is the person that is and should epitomize fairness and justice to not just the community, but the defendant also,” Fink said.
(Star Tribune staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.)
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