By AMY FORLITI and STEVE KARNOWSKI
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin has been sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd, whose dying gasps under Chauvin’s knee led to the biggest outcry against racial injustice in the U.S. in generations.
The punishment handed out Friday fell short of the 30 years that prosecutors had requested.
With good behavior, Chauvin, 45, could be paroled after serving two-thirds of his sentence, or about 15 years.
Chauvin, who did not testify at his trial, removed his COVID-19 mask and turned toward the Floyd family, speaking only briefly because of what he called “some additional legal matters at hand” — an apparent reference to the federal civil rights trial he still faces.
“But 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. And I hope things will give you some some peace of mind,” he said, without elaborating.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson called Floyd’s death “tragic,” and that Chauvin”s “brain is littered with what-ifs” from the day: “What if I just did not agree to go in that day? What if things had gone differently? What if I never responded to that call? What if what if what if?”
Floyd’s family members took the stand and expressed sorrow about his death. They asked for the maximum penalty.
“We don’t want to see no more slaps on the wrist. We’ve been through that already,” said a tearful Terrence Floyd, one of Floyd’s brothers.
Floyd’s nephew Brandon Williams said: “Our family is forever broken.” And Floyd’s 7-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a video played in court, said that if she could say something to her father now, it would be: “I miss you and and I love you.”
Prosecutor Matthew Frank asked the judge to exceed sentencing guidelines and give Chauvin 30 years in prison, saying “tortured is the right word” for what the officer did to Floyd.
“This is not a momentary gunshot, punch to the face. This is 9½ minutes of cruelty to a man who was helpless and just begging for his life,” Frank said.
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, took the stand to plead for mercy for son, saying his reputation has been unfairly reduced to that of “an aggressive, heartless and uncaring person” and a racist.
“I can tell you that is far from the truth,” she told the judge. “I want this court to know that none of these things are true and that my son is a good man.” She added: “Derek, I want you to know I have always believed in your innocence, and I will never waver from that.”
“I will be here for you when you come home,” she said.
The concrete barricades, razor wire and National Guard patrols at the courthouse during Chauvin’s three-week trial in the spring were gone Friday, reflecting an easing of tensions since the verdict in April. 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 defense 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.
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.