Former policeman Derek Chauvin could be ordered behind bars for 30 years on Friday when he is sentenced for the murder of African American George Floyd, a killing that sparked America’s biggest demonstrations for racial justice in decades.
Minnesota law provides for a minimum sentence of 12.5 years for the white, 45-year-old killer, who has been jailed since being convicted on three counts of murder and manslaughter two months ago.
But Judge Peter Cahill, who will hand down the sentence at 1:30 pm (1830 GMT) in a Minneapolis court, identified aggravating circumstances that could signal a much heavier punishment.
He said Chauvin had “abused his position of trust and authority,” treated Floyd with “particular cruelty” in front of minors and “committed the crime as a group with the active participation of at least three other” officers.
Chauvin and three colleagues arrested Floyd, 46, in May last year on suspicion of having passed a fake $20 bill in a store in Minneapolis, a northern city of around 420,000. They handcuffed him and pinned him to the ground in the middle of the street.
Chauvin then knelt on the back of Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes, indifferent to the dying man’s groans and to the pleas of distraught passers-by.
The scene, filmed and uploaded by a young woman, quickly went viral. After weeks of home confinement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people poured onto streets across the country and also overseas, to demand an end to racism and police brutality.
It took weeks for the mass demonstrations to taper off, but the debate around the pressing social issues remains vivid in the United States, where President Joe Biden has been slow to come up with the police reforms he promised during his campaign.
Late Thursday, Republican and Democratic lawmakers announced that after weeks of negotiations they had come up with “an agreement on a framework addressing the major issues for bipartisan police reform.”
“Over the next few weeks we look forward to continuing our work toward getting a finalized proposal across the finish line,” the members of Congress said in a statement.