The third-degree murder charge against former Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was seen kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, has been dismissed.
On Thursday, a Hennepin County judge dismissed the low-level murder charge against Chauvin for the May 25 death of Floyd, which sparked massive protests and major unrest in Minneapolis and across the United States.
However, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill ruled that the charges against Chauvin of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter will still stand, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
The third-degree murder charge was dismissed because the law demands that someone cause the death of another person while committing an act inherently dangerous to others. Cahill cited past precedents to rule that because no others were placed at risk during the fatal arrest of Floyd, the charge must be dismissed.
In 2014, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided in a 2014 murder case that “third-degree murder ‘cannot occur where the defendant’s actions were focused on a specific person,’” Cahill wrote.
Chauvin was arrested and originally charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter following an uproar resulting from the release of videotaped footage of the apparent killing.
Third-degree murder is a category of murder that only exists in three states: Florida, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. According to Minnesota statutes, a person can be charged with third-degree murder “by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind.”
The charges were later increased to second-degree murder after lawyers and members of the legal community saw the third-degree murder count as scandalous and “defective,” eventually costing Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman his control of the case.
“It was an inappropriate charge from the get-go, and it raised a lot of concerns for us as a community law firm about why that charge was brought,” said Legal Rights Center (LRC) executive director Sarah Davis. “It really points to what the community has been saying all along about this prosecution, which is that it truly needs to be truly independent from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.”
Under Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines, a conviction on charges of unintentional second-degree murder carries a presumptive sentence of 12.5 years. However, a judge can order a sentence of up to 15 years per their discretion. Second-degree manslaughter sentences call for four years in prison but can range up to 4.75 years.
In the same Thursday ruling, the Hennepin County District Court denied motions to dismiss charges against the three other former cops – J. Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao, and Thomas Lane – who were involved in the killing of Floyd.
The three former officers still face charges of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter, and all have been fired from the Minnesota Police Department.
In August, Chauvin requested that the judge dismiss his charges, with attorneys claiming that there wasn’t sufficient evidence against him.
Earlier this month, Chauvin was released from Oak Park Heights maximum security prison after posting bond, and was allowed to live in a neighboring state while he awaits trial.
Prosecutors maintain that Floyd was vulnerable while he was handcuffed with his chest pressed into the ground and he was subject to needless cruelty by the arresting officers. Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office has also noted that the ex-cops were in positions of authority at the time but still “inflicted gratuitous pain on Mr. Floyd” while witnesses, including a number of children, stood by and watched.
The killing of Floyd sparked a major period of nationwide unrest and protests against police brutality and racism, as well as a strong backlash from the Trump administration and far-right supporters of the police.
In the dramatic video of the killing, Chauvin, who is white, can be seen pressing his knee down on Floyd’s neck for almost eight minutes as Floyd, a Black man, begs for mercy and cries for his “momma” while his life is sapped away.
“Tell my kids I love them – I’m dead,” he gasps at one point.
Footage of the incident captured by bystanders sent shockwaves across the country and the world that continue to reverberate to this day, despite the spread of outright misinformation about the case by pro-police conspiracy theorists.
The four former police officers are set to face trial in March 2021.
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