Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and a team of lawyers spent eleven months putting together a case to convict former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.
Ellison, who, like many others, witnessed cops walk away as free men after the public beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, was never certain his team would win. But they did.
“Gratitude, humility, followed by a certain sense of, I’ll say satisfaction. It’s what we were aiming for the whole time,” Ellison told “60 Minutes” on April 25 of his reaction to hearing the guilty verdict on April 20. Within ten hours of deliberation, a jury convicted Chauvin of second and third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter for the May 25, 2020 death of Floyd.
Nine minutes of witness video shows Chauvin and his fellow officers’ encounter with Floyd, his arrest, and painful death as Chauvin kneeled on his neck before a crowd begging him to get up. Chauvin defiantly glared back at onlookers, hands in his pockets, as Floyd called out for his mother, repeatedly said “I can’t breathe,” and ultimately took his last breath.
People outraged by Chauvin’s role in Floyd’s death have crucified the former officer since viewing video footage of the lethal police encounter.
“I spent 16 years as a criminal defense lawyer. So, I will admit, I felt a little bad for the defendant,” Ellison said to host Scott Pelley in the interview CBS rebroadcast on June 20. “I think he deserved to be convicted. But he’s a human being.” That show of compassion is not be misconstrued as Ellison excusing Chauvin.
“I’m not in any way wavering from my responsibility. But I hope we never forget that people who are defendants in our criminal justice system, that they’re human beings. They’re people. I mean, George Floyd was a human being. And so I’m not going to ever forget that everybody in this process is a person.”
The disgraced officer will be sentenced for his crimes Friday, June 25, at the Hennepin County Government Center. Chauvin’s defense team is seeking a new trial after suggesting explosive media coverage of Floyd’s death may have played a role in swaying the jurors’ guilty conviction. Prosecutors are seeking a 30-year sentence.
“I think it is important for the court to not go light or heavy,” said Ellison while weighing in on sentencing process. “I don’t know if it’s right for a judge to send a message through a sentence because the sentence should be tailored to the offense, tailored to the circumstances of the case. Look, the state never wanted revenge against Derek Chauvin. We just wanted accountability.”
Chauvin is the first officer in Minnesota state history to be convicted of murder.
The other former Minneapolis officers — Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — each participated in restraining Floyd, who was already in handcuffs face down on the ground, will stand trial in March 2022.