A judge in Minnesota in the United States has ruled that aggravating factors were involved in the killing of George Floyd, opening the possibility of a longer sentence for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of his murder last month.
A jury found Chauvin (45) guilty of second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter after hearing three weeks of testimony in a highly publicised trial. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 25th.
In a six-page ruling dated Tuesday, District Court judge Peter Cahill found that prosecutors had shown there were four aggravating factors in the death of Mr Floyd, a 46-year-old black man.
The judge said Chauvin, who is white, abused his position of trust and authority and treated Mr Floyd with particular cruelty. He committed the crime as part of a group with three other officers and did so with children present, Mr Cahill ruled.
“The slow death of George Floyd occurring over approximately six minutes of his positional asphyxia was particularly cruel in that Mr Floyd was begging for his life and obviously terrified by the knowledge that he was likely to die but during which the defendant objectively remained indifferent to Mr Floyd’s pleas,” Mr Cahill wrote.
Mr Floyd’s death after he was handcuffed on a Minneapolis street with Chauvin’s knee on his neck for more than nine minutes prompted massive protests against racism and police brutality in many US cities and other countries.
Attorneys for Mr Floyd’s family applauded Mr Cahill’s ruling.
“The application of justice in this case offers hope that we will see real change in the relationship between police and people of colour by holding officers properly accountable for egregious behaviour and for failing to honour the sanctity of all lives,” the attorneys said in a statement.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, had no comment when asked for a response.
The other former officers who were at the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Mr Floyd’s death and are set to go on trial on August 23rd.
Mr Cahill, who presided over the trial, will also sentence Chauvin. He faces a combined maximum 75 years in prison if the sentences run consecutively. State guidelines give judges leeway to impose sentences that are far less harsh.
Prosecutors on April 30th asked Mr Cahill to consider several aggravating circumstances in Mr Floyd’s death so that he could make “an upward sentencing departure” in the case.
While Mr Cahill accepted most of the prosecution’s arguments that aggravating circumstances were present, he rejected one of them, finding that lawyers for the state had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Floyd was “particularly vulnerable”.
A ruling by Mr Cahill is pending on a May 4th request by the defence for a new trial. Mr Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, argued that his client was deprived of a fair trial because of prosecutorial and jury misconduct and errors of law at the trial. He also argued that the verdict was contrary to the law. – Reuters