Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's sentence falls short of the 30 years that prosecutors had requested.
Former policeman Derek Chauvin has been sentenced to 22 and a half years in jail for murdering African American George Floyd, a killing that sparked America's biggest demonstrations for racial justice in decades.
"The sentence is not based on emotion or sympathy," said Judge Peter Cahill, handing down the term at a Minneapolis court after prosecutors sought a 30-year sentence.
He added in a short address that it was also not based on "on public opinion," but on the law and the facts specific to the case.
Chauvin, 45, was awaiting trial on Friday on federal civil rights charges in Floyd's death, along with three other fired officers who have yet to have their state trials.
Floyd’s family made impact statements at the start of the hearing with his seven-year-old daughter saying she wishes she could tell her late father that “I miss you and I love you.”
Gianna said in the victim impact statement that she believed her dad was still with her in spirit and that she wants to know how he got hurt.
“We used to have dinner meals every single night before we went to bed," she said.
Hers was the first of four victim impact statements expected at the sentencing.
Biden says sentencing 'appropriate'
US President Joe Biden said that the jail sentence was "appropriate."
"I don't know all the circumstances that were considered but it seems to me, under the guidelines, that seems to be appropriate," Biden said.
The lawyer for George Floyd's family hailed a "historic" step towards racial reconciliation.
"This historic sentence brings the Floyd family and our nation one step closer to healing by delivering closure and accountability," lawyer 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.— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) June 25, 2021
His brother Terrance urged the judge to hand down the maximum sentence of 40 years to his killer on Friday.
Terrance also urged Chauvin to explain the reason for murdering his brother during an arrest.
"Why? What were you thinking? What was going through your head when you had your knee on my brother's neck?" said Terrance.
The concrete barricades, razor wire and National Guard patrols at the courthouse in the Minnesota city during Chauvin's three-week trial in the spring were gone Friday, reflecting an easing of tensions since the verdict in April.
Chauvin offered his "condolences" to the family of Floyd.
"There's going to be some other information in the future that would be of interest and I hope things will give you some peace of mind," Chauvin told the Minneapolis court.
Second-degree murder, third-degree manslaughter charges
Still, there was recognition that the sentencing was another major step forward for Minneapolis since Floyd died on May 25, 2020.
“Between the incident, the video, the riots, the trial – this is the pinnacle of it,” said Mike Brandt, a local defence attorney who closely followed the case.
“The verdict was huge too but this is where the justice comes down.”
Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for up to 9 1/2 minutes as the 46-year-old Black man gasped that he couldn’t breathe and went limp.
Bystander video of Floyd's arrest on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner store prompted protests around the world and led to scattered violence in Minneapolis and beyond.
Aggravated sentencing expected
Minnesota sentencing guidelines called for 12 1/2 years, but Judge Peter Cahill agreed with prosecutors ahead of Friday’s proceedings that there were aggravating circumstances that could justify a heavier punishment – among them, that Chauvin treated Floyd with particular cruelty, abused his position of authority as a police officer and did it in front of children.
Prosecutors asked for 30 years, saying Chauvin’s actions were egregious and “shocked the nation’s conscience.”
The defence requested probation, saying Chauvin was the product of a “broken” system and “believed he was doing his job.”
Carolyn Pawlenty, mother of Chauvin, told Judge Cahill that her son “has a big heart".
“Derek has played over and over in his head the events of that day,” Pawlenty said. “I’ve seen the toll it has taken on him. I believe a lengthy sentence will not serve Derek well.”
She didn't mention Floyd by name.
With good behaviour, Chauvin could get out on parole after serving about two-thirds of his sentence.
Request for new trial denied
Before the sentencing, 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.
The judge also rejected a defence request for a hearing into possible juror misconduct.
Nelson had accused a juror of not being candid during jury selection because he didn’t mention his participation in a march last summer to honour the Reverand Martin Luther King Jr.
Prosecutors countered the juror had been open about his views.
Family statements at hearing
Floyd's family members, including two brothers and a nephew, were expected to give statements in court at the sentencing.
Ben Crump, an attorney for the family, said relatives were “anxious and tense” ahead of the proceedings.
“To us, George Floyd is a cause. He’s a case. He’s a hashtag. To them – that’s their flesh and blood. You know, that that’s their brother,” Crump said.
It was unclear whether Chauvin would break his long silence and speak at his sentencing. Some experts expressed doubt he would say anything because of the risk his words could be used against him in the federal case. No date for that trial has been set.
But Brandt said Chauvin could say a few words without getting into legal trouble.
“I think it’s his chance to tell the world, ‘I didn’t intend to kill him,’” the attorney said.
“If I was him, I think I would want to try and let people know that I’m not a monster,” Brandt said.
Chauvin did not testify at his trial. The only explanation the public heard from him came from body-camera footage in which he told a bystander at the scene: “We got to control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy ... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
Philip Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University, said 11 non-federal law officers, including Chauvin, have been convicted of murder for on-duty deaths since 2005.
The penalties for the nine who were sentenced before Chauvin ranged from from six years, nine months, to life behind bars, with the median being 15 years.
Rare sentencings in misconduct against Black people
With Chauvin’s sentencing, the Floyd family and Black America faced something of a rarity: In the small number of instances in which officers accused of brutality or other misconduct against Black people have gone to trial, the list of acquittals and mistrials is longer than the list of sentencings after conviction.
In recent years, the acquittals have included officers tried in the deaths of Philando Castile in suburban Minneapolis and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Two mistrials were declared over the death of Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati.
“That’s why the world has watched this trial, because it is a rare occurrence,” said Arizona-based civil rights attorney Benjamin Taylor, who has represented victims of police brutality. “Everybody knows that this doesn’t happen every day.”
Several people interviewed in Minneapolis before Chauvin's sentencing said they wanted to see a tough sentence.
Thirty years not enough
Thirty years “doesn't seem like long enough to me,” said Andrew Harer, a retail worker who is white.
“I would be fine if he was in jail for the rest of his life.”
Joseph Allen, 31, who is Black, said he would like to see Chauvin get a life sentence, adding that he hopes other police officers learn “not to do what Derek Chauvin did.”
As for whether she would like to hear Chauvin speak, Levy Armstrong said: “For me as a Black woman living in this community, there’s really nothing that he could say that would alleviate the pain and trauma that he caused. ... I think that if he spoke it would be disingenuous and could cause more trauma."
Chauvin has been held since his conviction at the state's maximum-security prison in Oak Park Heights, where he has been kept in a cell by himself for his own protection, his meals brought to him.
The three other officers are scheduled for trial in March on state charges of aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter.