Officer accused of killing George Floyd faces additional murder charge. ‘It’s something. We really need something.’
National Columnist Suzette Hackney is in Minneapolis for the trial of Derek Chauvin, reporting on the people, the scene and the mood.
There are no assurances in the criminal justice system. And former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has the right to a fair trial. His case, which will churn away for weeks, has city residents on edge emotionally.
But for a moment Thursday, those crying for justice had something to cling to.
Chauvin, who for more than nine minutes kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, now faces an additional murder charge — a development that offers a glimmer of hope for those here and nationwide who are pushing for a conviction.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill Thursday granted prosecutors’ request to reinstate a third-degree murder charge. Chauvin, 44, is also charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Floyd’s death sparked weeks of protests and prompted painful conversations around policing and race.
The ruling is a significant win for the prosecution. It’s difficult to convict police officers in use-of-force cases, but an additional charge — one with a lower standard of proof — gives prospective jurors another option to convict Chauvin in Floyd’s death.
Derek Chauvin trial: Will Americans find the justice they need?
In this image from video, defendant and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, right, listens as Hennepin County Judge PeterÂ Cahill presides over pretrial motions before jury selection Tuesday, March 9, 2021 at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Photo: AP)
Outside of the Hennepin County Government Center, just a few protesters gathered Thursday after the ruling. I asked one man how he felt about the additional charge. He raised his fist, pumped it a couple times and walked away saying: “It’s something. We really need something.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is leading the prosecution, said in a statement the addition of the charge “reflects the gravity of the allegations against Mr. Chauvin.”
“We look forward to presenting all three charges to the jury,” Ellison said.
Second-degree murder in Minnesota can be characterized as intentional or unintentional. Chauvin has been charged with unintentional second-degree murder. Prosecutors would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he caused Floyd’s death because he assaulted him. But a third-degree murder charge, often defined as depraved indifference, means a person acted recklessly and without regard to human life, thus endangering those around him.
A man changes the number of a sign board at a makeshift memorial of George Floyd before the third day of jury selection begins in the trial of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin who is accused of killing Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 10, 2021. (Photo: CHANDAN KHANNA, AFP via Getty Images)
Floyd’s family attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci released a statement lauding Cahill’s decision to reinstate a third-degree murder charge.
“We’re gratified that the judge cleared the way for the trial to proceed and for Chauvin to face this additional charge,” Crump and Romanucci said. “The trial is very painful and the family needs closure. We’re pleased that all judicial avenues are being explored and that the trial will move forward.”
All of America needs closure — and more.
National columnist Suzette Hackney is reporting from Minneapolis during the trial. She is a member of USA TODAY’S Editorial Board.
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