MINNEAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) — Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd.
Judge Peter Cahill could have put Chauvin behind bars for as many as 40 years. Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank asked the judge for 30 years.
“I’m not basing my sentence on public opinion,” Cahill said. “I’m not basing it on trying to send any messages.”
“This is based on your abuse of a position of trust and authority and also the particular cruelty showed to George Floyd,” Cahill said.
The Floyd family and their representatives acknowledged the context of the judge’s decision. Attorney Ben Crump hailed the prison term as the longest a Minnesota officer had ever been sentenced to, but said “real justice” would be for Floyd to still be alive.
“22 1/2 years is longer than we’ve ever got but shorter than what we should’ve gotten in the past,” Rev. Al Sharpton said.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison praised the sentence, but called on the Senate to pass legislation that would make it easier to charge officers for actions they make on duty.
“Let us not feel that we’re here to celebrate,” said civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton. “Justice would have been George Floyd never having been killed. Justice would have been the maximum. We got more than we thought only because we have been disappointed so many times before.”
Jennifer Starr Dodd, 37, streamed the proceedings from her phone as a large group of people watched over her shoulder at George Floyd Square, as the intersection where Floyd was pinned to the pavement is now known. Members of the crowd broke into applause, and several said, “We’ll take it.”
Starr Dodd was grateful the sentence was not the “slap on the wrist” she feared.
“There’s going to be more George Floyds, there’s going to be more Trayvon Martins, there’s going to be more Daunte Wrights, unfortunately,” she said, referring to other Black people who died on the streets. “But I have hope now that they can get the consequences that they deserve for doing their missteps in their actions.”
Chauvin was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The second-degree murder count, the most serious charge, carries up to 40 years in prison.
On Friday morning, Judge Peter Cahill rejected Chauvin’s request for a new trial, saying defense attorney Eric Nelson has not shown that abused its discretion and denied Chauvin the right to a fair trial.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was declared dead after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes on May 25. Floyd was arrested on suspicion of using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a convenience store. His death sparked protests and civil unrest in Minneapolis and across the U.S. over police brutality, at points turning violent.
Chauvin spoke briefly, saying the other charges he’s facing prohibited him from going into detail.
“I’m not able to give a full formal statement at this time,” he said. “Very briefly though, I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family. There’s going to be some other information in the future that would be of interest. I hope things will give you some peace of mind.”
The first victim impact statement came from Floyd’s daughter, Gianna Floyd, 7, who said she wished she could still tell her dad she loved him.
“We used to have dinner meals every single night before we went to bed,” she said. “My daddy always used to help me brush my teeth.”
Floyd’s brother, Terrence Floyd, gave emotional testimony at Friday’s sentencing.
“I wanted to know from the man himself: why?” Terrence said. “What were you thinking when you had your knee on my brother’s neck? When he posed no threat.”
Floyd’s other brother, Philonise Floyd, says his life as a trucker was changed forever when George died.
“I haven’t had a real night’s sleep because of the nightmares of hearing my brother plead for his life over and over again,” he told the judge.
George Floyd’s nephew, Brandon Williams, asked the judge on behalf of his family to impose the maximum sentence.
“We don’t want to see no more smacks on the wrist,” Terrence Floyd said.
But Nelson pointed out the former officer had never broken the law. “He was proud to be a police officer because what he liked to do was help people,” Nelson said.
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, told the judge her son was not the racist some have made him out to be.
“I want this court to know that none of these things are true and that my son is a good man,” Pawlenty said. “Derek always dedicated his life and time to the police department. Even on his days off he would call in to see if they needed help.
“I want you to know that when you’re sentencing him you’re also sentencing me.”
She then turned to Chauvin and said she, “believed in [his] innocence.”
The racially diverse jury listened to three weeks of evidence filled with countless surveillance videos, emotional testimony and medical experts.
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Prosecutors argued that Chauvin continued to kneel on Floyd even though he was not resisting, using excessive force in violation of police training, and even when one of the onlookers identified herself as a firefighter and pleaded repeatedly to check Floyd’s pulse, according to witnesses and video.
The defense argued that Chauvin did what he was trained to do and that Floyd’s death was not caused by the officer’s knee, as prosecutors contend, but by Floyd’s illegal drug use, heart disease, high blood pressure and the adrenaline flowing through his body.
The prosecution called 11 days worth of witness to the stand whereas the defense only used two days of testimony before resting its case.
Under Minnesota statutes, Chauvin will be sentenced only on the most serious charge of second-degree murder. That’s because all of the charges against him stem from one act, with one victim.
The max for that charge is 40 years, but legal experts have said there’s no way he’ll get that much. Case law dictates the practical maximum Chauvin could have faced was 30 years — double what the high end of state sentencing guidelines suggest. Anything above that risks being overturned on appeal.
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It’s possible Chauvin will not serve the full term. In Minnesota it’s presumed that a defendant with good behavior will serve two-thirds in prison and the rest on supervised release, commonly known as parole.
If that happens, Chauvin would spend 15 years in prison. Once on supervised release, he could be sent back to prison if he violates conditions of his parole.
It wasn’t immediately clear where he would serve his time after he is sentenced.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.