Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin has been sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison for the murder of George Floyd.
Mr Floyd’s dying gasps under Chauvin’s knee in the city in the US state of Minnesota led to the biggest outcry against racial injustice in the US and beyond in generations.
The punishment – which came after Chauvin broke his year-long silence to offer condolences to the Floyd family and express hope that they eventually have “some peace of mind” – is one of the longest prison terms ever imposed on an American police officer in the killing of a black person.
However, Floyd family members and others were disappointed after the sentence fell short of the 30 years prosecutors had requested.
With good behaviour, Chauvin, 45, could get out on parole after serving two thirds of his sentence – roughly 15 years.
Judge Peter Cahill went beyond the 12 and a half-year sentence prescribed under state guidelines, citing Chauvin’s “abuse of a position of trust and authority and also the particular cruelty” shown to Mr Floyd.
Floyd family lawyer Ben Crump said the victim’s relatives had received “some measure of accountability”, but they are hoping Chauvin gets the maximum at his upcoming federal civil rights trial.
Mr Crump said this was the longest sentence a police officer has ever received in Minnesota.
But he added: “Real justice in America will be Black men and Black women and people of colour who will not have to fear being killed by the police just because the colour of their skin. That would be real justice.”
Outside the courthouse, a crowd of about 50 people clasped hands or placed them on each other’s shoulders. The reaction was subdued as people debated whether the sentence was long enough.
At George Floyd Square, as the intersection where Mr Floyd was pinned to the pavement is now known, members of the crowd broke into applause, and several said: “We’ll take it.”
Chauvin was immediately led back to prison. He showed little emotion when the judge pronounced the sentence, with a Covid-19 mask obscuring much of his face.
The white former officer was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for pressing his knee against Mr Floyd’s neck for up to nine and a half minutes as the 46-year-old man gasped that he could not breathe before going limp on May 25 2020.
Bystander video of Mr Floyd’s arrest on suspicion of passing a counterfeit 20 dollar bill at a corner shop prompted protests around the world and led to scattered violence in Minneapolis and beyond, as well as demands for overhauling police departments.
On Friday, Chauvin, who did not testify at his trial, removed his mask and turned toward the Floyd family, speaking only briefly because of what he called “some additional legal matters at hand” – an apparent reference to the federal civil rights trial, where his words could be used against him.
He said: “I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family. There’s going to be some other information in the future that would be of interest. And I hope things will give you some peace of mind.”
Defence lawyer Eric Nelson had asked that Chauvin be let off on probation, saying the former officer’s “brain is littered with what-ifs” from that day, such as: “What if I just did not agree to go in that day? What if things had gone differently? What if I never responded to that call? What if? What if? What if?”
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, pleaded for mercy for her son, saying his reputation has been unfairly reduced to that of “an aggressive, heartless and uncaring person” and a racist.
“I want this court to know that none of these things are true and that my son is a good man,” she told the judge, adding: “Derek, I want you to know I have always believed in your innocence, and I will never waver from that.
“I will be here for you when you come home.”
Prosecutor Matthew Frank, in asking the judge to exceed the sentencing guidelines, said “tortured is the right word” for what the officer did to Floyd.
“This is not a momentary gunshot, punch to the face. This is nine and a half minutes of cruelty to a man who was helpless and just begging for his life,” Mr Frank said.
Floyd family members had tearfully asked the judge to impose the maximum, which was 40 years. Several spoke before the sentence, and his seven-year-old daughter, Gianna, was seen in a recorded video.
“I miss you and I love you,” Gianna Floyd said in the video when asked what she would say to her father.
She had a list of things she would have liked to do with him: “I want to play with him, have fun, go on a plane ride.”
Afterward, Mr Floyd’s nephew Brandon Williams said the sentence was insufficient, “when you think about George being murdered, in cold blood with a knee on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds execution-style in broad daylight”.
LaTonya Floyd, George Floyd’s sister, said of Chauvin’s punishment: “That’s nothing. That’s nothing. He should have got the max, period.”