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Fred de Sam Lazaro
Fred de Sam Lazaro
More than a year after George Floyd's murder set off national protests and a racial reckoning, former police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison by a Minnesota judge Friday. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro begins our report from Minneapolis on the sentence and emotional hearing. Then, William Brangham looks at the continuing reverberations of this case.
More than a year after George Floyd's murder set off national protests and a racial reckoning, the former police officer found guilty in his death, Derek Chauvin, was sentenced by a Minnesota judge today to 22.5 years in prison.
In a moment, William Brangham looks at the sentence and the continuing reverberations of this case.
But, first, special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from Minneapolis.
Judge Peter Cahill, Hennepin County, Minnesota:
I'm not going to attempt to be profound or clever, because it's not the appropriate time.
Fred De Sam Lazaro:
Judge Peter Cahill said his sentence was based strictly on specific facts of the case and the law, not on public opinion, not to send any message, though, he had a personal one.
Judge Peter Cahill:
I want to acknowledge the deep and tremendous pain that all the families are feeling, especially the Floyd family. You have our sympathies.
That pain was emotionally on display as proceedings began this afternoon, with victim statements from George Floyd's family, recalling the impact of his death.
In video captured by a bystander, Chauvin held his knee on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd pleaded that he couldn't breathe.
If you could say anything to your daddy right now, what would it be?
Gianna Floyd, Daughter of George Floyd: It would be, I miss him, and I love you.
Following 7-year-old daughter Gianna, the court heard from George Floyd's brothers, Terrence and Philonise Floyd.
Terrence Floyd, Brother of George Floyd: I wanted to know from the man himself, why? What were you thinking? What was going through your head when you had your knee on my brother's neck, why — when you knew that he posed no threat anymore, that he was handcuffed, why you didn't at least get up, why you stayed there?
Philonise Floyd, Brother of George Floyd: 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.
For the first time in this case, the court heard also from a member of Chauvin's family.
Carolyn Pawlenty, Mother of Derek Chauvin: When you sentence my son, you will also be sentencing me.
Carolyn Pawlenty called her son a good man, dedicated to his work.
Derek is a quiet, thoughtful, honorable and selfless man. He has a big heart, and he always has put others before his own. The public will never know the loving and caring man he is.
That theme was picked up by Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson.
Eric Nelson, Attorney For Derek Chauvin:
He was a solid police officer, that he did his job. He was decorated as a police officer, multiple lifesaving awards. He was decorated for valor. And he, too, is a son, and a brother, and a father.
Mr. Chauvin, as to count one…
Cahill's sentence of 22.5 years is 10 years more than state guidelines, the judge citing several aggravating factors, including particular cruelty shown to Floyd.
In a brief statement, Chauvin himself stopped short of an apology.
DEREK CHAUVIN, Convicted Felon:
At this time, due to some additional legal matters at hand, I'm not able to give a full formal statement at this time. But, very briefly, though, I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family.
The 45-year-old former officer faces more legal challenges, including federal civil rights charges in this and another case from 2017. His next trial, as well as state and federal proceedings against three other former officers charged in the Floyd case, will begin in coming months.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Fred de Sam Lazaro in Minneapolis.
We get reaction and insight now into today's sentencing from Tracey Meares. She is a professor of law and co-founder of the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School.
Tracey Meares, great to have you back on the "NewsHour."
Twenty-two years-plus for Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. Given this crime, what is your reaction to this sentence?
Tracey Meares, Justice Collaboratory Founding Director, Yale Law School:
My reaction when watching the hearing was that the judge landed on a sentence that many of us expected, given that the average sentence was 12.5 years.
A 10-year upward departure, based on a finding of two aggravated circumstances, was basically what I was expecting, even though it wasn't the 30 years that the prosecution asked for.
So, is it your sense — we knew that the max was possibly 40, but — and many people felt that there should have been even more of a sentence.
Is it your sense, though, that this was the right, fair decision?
I think, since the guidelines attempt to shape a judge's discretion, and the prosecution made specific arguments based on four aggravating factors — the judge relied on two of them, abuse of authority and excessive cruelty — at least, that's what the judge said in court. I haven't read the 22-page memorandum.
But I think those who are watching that sentence or reading about it should understand that it's a very serious sentence for there to be 10 years above a 12.5-year average sentence for second-degree murder.
So, going forward, I think the larger question is, does Chauvin's conviction and now sentence actually change police behavior going forward? What do you think about that?
That is the question that everyone's thinking about.
Here's what I think. I think it was incredibly important for the judge to listen to people who have said that, in the past, courts have not taken this behavior seriously, by imposing a serious sentence, 10 years above the 12.5-year average.
I also think folks are right to settle on an opinion that just looking at an individual case, even in an incredibly egregious factual circumstance like this, is not going to, by itself, be a signal that's going to change policing (AUDIO GAP) not going to get us into the kind of — kind of support for safety that many people are asking for that looks beyond the carceral approach that police take today.
All right, Tracey Meares of Yale Law School, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
I welcome the opportunity, William.
Watch the Full Episode
Fred de Sam Lazaro is director of the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, a program that combines international journalism and teaching. He has served with the PBS NewsHour since 1985 and is a regular contributor and substitute anchor for PBS' Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.
William Brangham is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour in Washington, D.C. He joined the flagship PBS program in 2015, after spending two years with PBS NewsHour Weekend in New York City.
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