Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder and manslaughter for pinning George Floyd to the pavement with his knee on the black man’s neck.
Chauvin, 45, could now be sent to prison for decades, after being found guilty on all charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The jury of six white people and six black or multi-racial ones came back with its verdict after about 10 hours of deliberations over two days.
Chauvin’s face was obscured by a Covid mask, and little reaction could be seen beyond his eyes darting around the courtroom.
His bail was immediately revoked and he was led away with his hands cuffed behind his back.
The verdict was read in a courthouse ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops, in a city on edge against another round of unrest — not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a young black man, Daunte Wright, in a Minneapolis suburb April 11.
The jurors’ identities were kept secret and will not be released until the judge decides it is safe to do so.
Three other former Minneapolis officers charged with aiding and abetting murder in Mr Floyd’s death will stand trial in August.
Mr Floyd, 46, died on May 25 last year after being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit 20 dollar bill for a pack of cigarettes at a corner market. He panicked, pleaded that he was claustrophobic and struggled with police when they tried to put him in a squad car. They put him on the ground instead.
‘Believe your eyes’
The centrepiece of the case was the bystander video of Mr Floyd gasping repeatedly, “I can’t breathe” and onlookers yelling at Chauvin to stop as the officer pressed his knee on or close to Mr Floyd’s neck for what authorities say was nine-and-a-half minutes.
Mr Floyd slowly went silent and limp.
Prosecutors played the footage at the earliest opportunity, during opening statements, with Jerry Blackwell telling the jury: “Believe your eyes.”
And it was shown over and over, analysed one frame at a time by witnesses on both sides.
A case that shook America
In the wake of Mr Floyd’s death, demonstrations and scattered violence broke out in Minneapolis, around the country and beyond. The furore also led to the removal of Confederate statues and other offensive symbols such as Aunt Jemima.
In the months that followed, numerous states and cities restricted the use of force by police, revamped disciplinary systems or subjected police departments to closer oversight.
Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Mr Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use.
Mr Floyd had high blood pressure, an enlarged heart and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
Under the law, police have certain leeway to use force and are judged according to whether their actions were “reasonable” under the circumstances.
The defence also tried to make the case that Chauvin and the other officers were hindered in their duties by what they perceived as a growing, hostile crowd.
Reaction to the verdict
In the wake of the verdict, former presidential candidate Hilary Clinton tweeted: “George Floyd's family and community deserved for his killer to be held accountable. Today, they got that accountability. Always and forever, Black lives matter.”
The actress Viola Davis tweeted: “GUILTY!!!! As it should be!! Now....Rest In Peace George Floyd. Rest. You and your family have been vindicated.”
The senator Cory Booker tweeted: “This verdict is justice served—but it is not justice for George Floyd. True justice would be a country where George Floyd would still be alive today. True justice demands action—it demands change & that we do everything we can to stop this from happening again & again & again.”