‘Don’t go heavy on him’: Minnesota AG says judge should not make an example of Derek Chauvin


The Minnesota Attorney General has spoken of his compassion for Derek Chauvin after he was convicted of murdering George Floyd and said he hopes the judge won’t go ‘light or heavy’ because Friday’s sentencing isn’t about ‘revenge.’ 

Chauvin, 45, is facing a maximum of 40 years in jail after he was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

But Minnesota AG Keith Ellison told 60 Minutes on Sunday that despite his feelings of ‘gratitude’ and ‘satisfaction’ at seeing Chauvin convicted, he also felt sympathy for the cop.

‘I spent 16 years as a criminal defense lawyer. So, I will admit, I felt a little bad for the defendant. I think he deserved to be convicted. But he’s a human being,’ Ellison told Scott Pelley.

‘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 AG added.

Minnesota AG Keith Ellison told 60 Minutes on Sunday that despite his feelings of ‘gratitude’ and ‘satisfaction’ at seeing Chauvin convicted, he also felt sympathy for the cop

Derek Chauvin, listens to verdicts at his trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis on April 20

Derek Chauvin, listens to verdicts at his trial for the 2020 death of George Floyd at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis on April 20

Chauvin was captured on video kneeling on the neck of the 46-year-old Floyd – suspected of using a counterfeit bill – for more than nine minutes until he passed out and died on May 25, 2020, while ignoring the victim’s pleas for air and help.

The video of Floyd’s death sparked huge protests across the United States and around the world against racism and police violence. 

Asked whether the judge should give the maximum sentence and send a ‘message,’ AG Ellison told CBS: ‘I think it is important for the Court to not go light or heavy. 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.’ 

The lawyer added that, despite the shocking video which was beamed around the world, he was never certain that Chauvin would be found guilty.

‘I was never convinced we were going to win this case until we heard the verdict of guilty. I remember what happened in the Rodney King case when I was a pretty young man, young lawyer,’ Ellison said.

King, who was unarmed, was hauled from his car and beaten by four LAPD officers in 1991. The cops were acquitted of any wrongdoing sparking massive riots in Los Angeles. 

Ellison said he’s been ‘devastated’ when he heard how they walked free that day.

Comparing it to the Chauvin case, He told CBS: ‘Whenever – an officer is charged with an offense, particularly when the victim is a person of color, it’s just rare that there’s any accountability. And so, there was every moment of this case, I thought, “What are we missing? What haven’t we done?”‘ 

The Attorney General said that they never worked on the assumption that the video was enough evidence and so built up as detailed accounts from witnesses so that the jury could be convinced. 

Asked by Pelley whether he thought the murder was a ‘hate crime,’ Ellison said that there was no evidence to that effect, saying that one of the mystifying things about the case was that they had no motive to present to the jury.

‘I wouldn’t call it [a hate crime] because hate crimes are crimes where there’s an explicit motive and of bias. We don’t have any evidence that Derek Chauvin factored in George Floyd’s race as he did what he did,’ the AG said.

Chauvin was captured on video kneeling on the neck of the 46-year-old Floyd (pictured) - suspected of using a counterfeit bill - for more than nine minutes until he passed out and died on May 25, 2020, while ignoring the victim's pleas for air and help

Chauvin was captured on video kneeling on the neck of the 46-year-old Floyd (pictured) – suspected of using a counterfeit bill – for more than nine minutes until he passed out and died on May 25, 2020, while ignoring the victim’s pleas for air and help

As for Chauvin’s motive for the killing, Ellison told CBS: ‘That’s a question we spent a lotta time asking ourselves. And all we could come up with is what we could divine from his body language and his demeanor.

‘And what we saw is that the crowd was demanding that he get up. And then he was staring right back at them defiantly. “You don’t tell me what to do. I do what I wanna do. You people have no control over me. I’m going to show you.”‘

He added that Chauvin, despite knowing he was being recorded, continued to kneel on Floyd’s neck because he knew that ‘history was on his side.’

Before Chauvin no police officer had ever been convicted of second-degree murder in Minnesota. 

Asked whether Floyd had any responsibility to bear for what happened that day, the Attorney General said emphatically: ‘No, he doesn’t.’ 

Prosecutors earlier this month asked Judge Peter Cahill to sentence Chauvin to 30 years in prison, submitting court documents which called the actions of the cop an ‘egregious abuse’ of his position.

‘Defendant’s conduct was also particularly cruel,’ prosecutors said.

They recalled that the judge had ruled there were four aggravating factors in the case, allowing him to depart from state sentencing guidelines and clearing the path for a tough sentence. 

The most serious charge that Chauvin was convicted of – second-degree murder – carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.

As a first-time offender, Chauvin had potentially faced 12 and a half years in prison on that count under the guidelines, but the aggravating factors mean Cahill can opt for a longer jail term. 

Attorneys for Chauvin countered with a far different request – a sentence of time served and probation, claiming that their client was guilty of ‘an error made in good faith.’ 

They said their client was seeking ‘a probationary sentence with an incarceration period of time served.’

As an alternative, Chauvin ‘respectfully requests that the court grant him a downward durational departure,’ or a sentence lower than what the guidelines suggest, his lawyer Eric Nelson wrote.

Aside from the ‘long-term damage a prison sentence would inflict upon Mr Chauvin’s life prospects, given his age, convictions for officer-involved offenses significantly increase the likelihood of him becoming a target in prison,’ Nelson wrote.

Chauvin ‘was unaware that he was even committing a crime,’ he wrote, adding: ‘In fact, in his mind, he was simply performing his lawful duty in assisting other officers in the arrest of George Floyd.’

‘Mr Chauvin’s offense is best described as an error made in good faith… not intentional commission of an illegal act,’ the lawyer said.

Chauvin also faces separate federal civil rights charges in connection with Floyd’s death. 



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