Judge in Chauvin Case Approves Four Aggravated Sentencing Factors

The former Minneapolis police officer now faces up to 30 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listens as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides over pretrial motions on March 9, 2021. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — In a Wednesday morning ruling, the judge overseeing the murder case of fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin ruled that four of prosecutors’ five proposed aggravated sentencing factors apply to Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd. 

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill wrote that Chauvin abused a position of authority, treated Floyd with “particular cruelty,” killed him in front of at least four minors and did so with the active participation of three other people. Not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, he wrote, was the state’s contention that Floyd’s intoxication or the restraints Chauvin and fellow officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao used on him rendered him “particularly vulnerable.” 

Chauvin was convicted of second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter late in April for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for approximately nine and a half minutes in late May 2020, with Lane and Kueng atop the Black man’s back and Thao standing between Chauvin and a crowd of increasingly distressed bystanders. Floyd was pronounced dead shortly afterward, and Minneapolis quickly erupted into protests and riots which spread across the globe. 

“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,” Cahill wrote of the “particular cruelty” factor. “The defendant objectively remained indifferent to Mr. Floyd’s pleas.” 

The judge also noted that Chauvin declined Lane’s two suggestions that they turn Floyd on his side and prevented bystanders, including off-duty firefighter Genevieve Hansen, from assisting even after Floyd had passed out. 

The ruling opens Chauvin up to a sentence as high as 30 years. If Cahill had decided that none of the factors applied, Chauvin would have faced a maximum of 15 years from his state-court convictions. For the full 30-year option, only one aggravated factor had to be proved. Second-degree murder carries an absolute maximum sentence of 40 years, but other state statutes make that a near impossibility in this case. 

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement that he was glad the court agreed with his office’s assessment of aggravating factors.

“The particular cruelty of Derek Chauvin’s conduct, his abuse of authority with his fellow officers and the impact of this crime on the minors who had to witness it require a sentence that holds Mr. Chauvin sufficiently accountable,” Ellison said.

Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson did not return a request for comment Wednesday morning.

The former officer’s sentencing is scheduled for June 25. He is being held in an administrative control unit at the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ Oak Park Heights Correctional Facility. Regardless of his sentence, Minnesota law gives him the opportunity for supervised release after serving two-thirds of it if his behavior in prison is good. 

Chauvin has also been indicted on federal civil rights charges for Floyd’s death and related to the restraint of a 14-year-old he arrested in 2017. Those charges were unsealed Friday. Any federal sentence he may receive would be served concurrently with his state sentence. 

Lane, Kueng and Thao are also facing federal civil rights charges for Floyd’s death, and their state trial on aiding-and-abetting charges is set to begin in August. Chauvin, meanwhile, has moved for a new trial and a hearing on potential juror misconduct after photos surfaced of a juror attending a rally honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. 

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