A judge sentenced fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to 22 ½ years in prison Friday for the murder of George Floyd, a killing captured on a bystander's viral video that pushed a divided nation into unrest and spurred a still-unfolding racial reckoning.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill noted the "particular cruelty" of the crime in delivering the sentence, and in a memo expounding on his decision, the judge said Chauvin "treated Mr. Floyd without respect and denied him the dignity owed to all human beings."
Cahill delivered the sentence after relatives on both sides talked about their personal pain and acknowledged the lasting trauma that reverberated from Floyd's killing. Floyd's family members, their anguished testimony sometimes halted by tears, pleaded for the maximum sentence. For the first time, Chauvin himself spoke, expressing condolences to Floyd's family.
Floyd's killing by a white police officer reignited a painful national debate about policing and racial justice, prompting a campaign to radically defund or dismantle some police departments across the country, a debate now raging in Minneapolis. The killing also altered the debate in business, sports and popular culture and prompted the removal of more than 160 Confederate monuments and the changing of the name of Washington's NFL team.
The sentence offered some closure to the trial, which ended with guilty verdicts in late April.
Floyd's brother, Terrence, tearfully said he wanted to ask Chauvin, "Why? What were you thinking? What was going through your head when you had your knee on my brother's neck, when you knew that he imposed no threat anymore while he was handcuffed? Why didn't you at least get up? Why you stayed there?"
He said the family wanted the maximum penalty. "We don't want to see no more slaps on the wrist. We've been through that already," he said.
The sentencing was the denouement to the story that began shortly after 8 p.m. on May 25, 2020, with a call to police from the Cup Foods convenience store in south Minneapolis. A store clerk reported Floyd on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Minutes after police arrived, Floyd was pinned under Chauvin's knee on the pavement, saying he couldn't breathe and begging along with several bystanders for his life. Chauvin ignored the pleas.
Cahill sought to separate his sentencing rationale from the high emotion of the trial and the fallout from Chauvin's crime, which led to violent civil unrest in the Twin Cities and around the country last summer. The judge said the sentence was "not based on public opinion. I am not basing it on any attempt to send any messages. The job of a trial judge is to apply the law to specific facts."
But he did single out Floyd's survivors, saying, "I want to acknowledge the deep and tremendous pain that all the families are feeling, especially the Floyd family. … It has been painful throughout Hennepin County, throughout the state of Minnesota and throughout the country, but most importantly we need to recognize the pain of the Floyd family."
At the conclusion of the 90-minute court session, his office released a 22-page sentencing memorandum explaining the reasoning behind the sentence that marked a departure both from the 30 years sought by prosecutors and the probation sought by the defense. Attorney General Keith Ellison said afterward that the sentence was one of the longest given to a police officer.
Chauvin, whose hair was more closely cropped than during his trial, wore a gray suit and a face mask throughout the hearing because of courthouse COVID-19 protocols. He has been in prison since April 20, when a jury convicted him of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
As is customary for defendants, Cahill told Chauvin to stand at the lectern with his lawyer Eric Nelson. Chauvin removed his paper mask and spoke without emotion.
"At this time due to some additional legal matters at hand, I'm not able to give a full formal statement at this time," Chauvin said before turning toward Floyd's family members. They sat behind him and didn't react to his words. "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."
Asked later about the reference to "other information," Chauvin's lawyer Nelson declined to comment.
At the time he murdered Floyd, Chauvin had been a Minneapolis police officer for 19 years. He was fired and arrested within days of Floyd's death but released on bond in early October. He was arrested again on April 20 after his convictions. He will get credit for the 199 days he already has served in protective custody in prison.
If he qualifies with good behavior, Chauvin will serve just shy of 14 ½ years in prison until Dec. 10, 2035, when he will be 59 years old, according to the state Department of Corrections. The balance of his term, to be served on supervised release, would run out on June 8, 2043, the state agency said.
No one in the courtroom reacted as Cahill announced the sentence. Chauvin faced the judge to listen, his head cocked. His family left the courtroom abruptly after sentencing while Floyd's family and prosecutors shook hands and exchanged pats on the back.
Chauvin is the second officer in modern Minnesota history to be sentenced to prison for killing a civilian on the job. Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was convicted of second-degree murder in 2019 and sentenced to 12 ½ years for fatally shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond after she called 911 late one night about a possible sexual assault in an alley. Noor fired at her from inside the police vehicle. The state Supreme Court is weighing his appeal.
In Chauvin's case, before Cahill delivered the sentence, the court heard victim-impact statements.
Floyd's 7-year-old daughter, Gianna, spoke first via a recorded video in which she was questioned by an unseen adult. Gianna talked about wanting to play with her dad and go on a plane ride. She said he had helped her brush her teeth and that she wants to know how he got hurt.
Asked what she would tell him, Gianna said: "It would be I miss you and I love you."
Floyd's nephew Brandon Williams spoke of the family's unimaginable pain. "You may see us cry, but the full extent of our pain and trauma will never be seen with the naked eye," he said. "The heartbreak and hurt goes far beyond any number of tears we could ever cry."
Speaking last was another brother, Philonise Floyd, who was also emotional about Gianna. "My family and I have been given a life sentence. We will never be able to get George back. Daddies are a daughter's first love. He will never be able to walk Gianna down the aisle at her wedding, attend those magical moments of her life like a daddy-daughter dance, sweet 16 party, seeing her out for prom, graduations, and she will never be able to have any personal memories of her father," he said.
Prosecutor Matthew Frank pressed the court for a 30-year sentence — well above what state guidelines recommend. He thanked Minneapolis police officers for testifying against Chauvin and then he thanked Floyd's family.
Frank walked through the four aggravating factors that he argued supported a longer sentence, starting with the fact that Chauvin was in a position of authority as a police officer.
"This case was about Derek Chauvin disregarding all that training he received and assaulting Mr. Floyd until he suffocated to death," he said.
He said Floyd's killing involved cruelty, another aggravating factor. "I think torture is the right word," Frank said.
Conversely, Chauvin's lawyer, Nelson, argued that mitigating factors merited a lesser sentence for his client, who had no criminal history. He said Chauvin should be placed on probation and given no additional prison time.
In an unexpected moment, Chauvin's mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, spoke publicly for the first time and pleaded for leniency.
"It has been difficult for me to hear and read what the media, public and prosecution team believe Derek to be, an aggressive, heartless and uncaring person. I can tell you that is far from the truth," she said, "My son's identity has also been reduced to that of a racist. I want this court to know that none of these things are true and my son is a good man."
She then addressed her son and recalled that her happiest moment other than giving birth to him was pinning on his police badge when he became an officer.
Pawlenty said she believes in her son's innocence, and "I will never waver from that."
In his remarks, Nelson acknowledged the historic fallout from Chauvin's crime.
"As I believe we are all cognizant of, this case is at the epicenter of a cultural and political divide," Nelson said, adding that he has received thousands of e-mails and voice mails. "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 wove its way into nearly every facet of our lives from the entertainment that we consume to presidential politics."
Before the sentencing hearing began, Cahill issued an order rejecting Nelson's motions for a new trial on several grounds.
The judge also rejected Nelson's request for a Schwartz hearing, a proceeding in which jurors are recalled to court and questioned about possible misconduct.
In addition to the appeals, which will likely take years, Chauvin's legal journey is far from over. He faces multiple federal civil rights charges involving Floyd and another victim. He's also due in court next week on state income tax evasion charges.
The three other officers on the scene when Floyd was killed face charges of aiding and abetting Chauvin. They are set for trial next March in Cahill's courtroom.