Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22-and-a-half years in prison on Friday night for the killing of George Floyd, whose death sparked a global protest movement.
Ahead of the judgment, Chauvin broke his silence to speak directly to the Floyd family as he offered his "condolences" for the 46-year-old’s death for the first time.
There were mixed responses from the hundreds of people who had gathered outside the Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis to hear the sentence, with some shouting "no justice" as they heard the news.
But the Floyd family appeared satisfied, calling it a "historic" sentence that would bring the "nation one step closer to healing by delivering closure and accountability".
As he delivered the sentence, Judge Peter Cahill said his decision was not based on "public opinion" but did acknowledge the "tremendous pain" Floyd’s killing had caused, in particular to his family.
People link arms outside the court in Minneapolis as Judge Peter Cahill announces the sentencing of Derek Chauvin
Credit: Stephen Maturen/ Getty Images North America
The sentence is almost 10 years longer than the presumptive sentence for Chauvin’s most serious offence, second-degree murder.
Judge Cahill said the harsher sentence was based on "aggravating factors" in Chauvin’s case, noting that the former officer "abused" his position of authority, treated Floyd, an African American, with "particular cruelty" and committed the crime in the presence of children.
Chauvin, a white former officer, was convicted of murder and manslaughter in April after he was filmed last year kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as he gasped "I can’t breathe".
The footage of the fatal arrest in Minneapolis led to intense scrutiny of systemic racism in policing in the US and across the globe in a case that has come to be seen as a turning point for police accountability.
Prosecutors had demanded a 30-year prison term, saying "his conduct shocked the nation’s conscience".
Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, had requested a probation, noting that thousands had written in support of the former officer.
With good behaviour, Chauvin will serve two thirds of the sentence behind bars and the rest on parole, meaning he is likely to spend at least 15 years in jail.
The 45-year-old appeared impassive as his sentence was read out. He spoke only briefly during the proceedings to say he was unable to give a fuller statement due to his ongoing legal battles, but he turned to Floyd’s relatives in the courtroom and said: "I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family."
He added cryptically: "There’s going to be some information in the future that would be of interest, and I hope things would give you some peace of mind".
Four members of the Floyd family also addressed the court to deliver victim impact statements.
Floyd’s seven-year-old daughter, Gianna, appeared via video to tell the court she missed playing with her father. "We used to have dinner every single night before we went to bed. My daddy always used to help me brush my teeth," she said.
Asked what she would say to her father if she could, she replied: "I miss him all the time… I love him."
Floyd’s brother Terence said he wanted to hear "from the man himself" to understand why he had refused to remove his knee as his brother lay dying. Addressing Chauvin directly, he asked: "What were you thinking, what was going through your head when you put your knee on my brother’s neck? Why didn’t you get up?"
Chauvin met his gaze but appeared expressionless behind the face mask he was wearing because of Covid restrictions.
A second brother, Philonise Floyd, wept as he asked Judge Cahill to give "the maximum sentence possible". "My family has been given a life sentence," he said.
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, spoke publicly for the first time to plead for leniency for her son. She said the public image of her son had been reduced to a "racist", but was "far from the truth".
"Derek has played over and over in his head the events of that day. I’ve seen the toll it has taken on him," she said.
She told the judge: "I believe a lengthy sentence will not serve him well. When you sentence my son, you will also be sentencing me."
The crowd gathered outside the courthouse shook their heads as she spoke, noting she had made no reference to Floyd.