Convicted murderer Derek Chauvin faces the very real possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison for killing George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, on a Minneapolis street corner more than a year ago. Prosecutors have moved to sentence the former Minneapolis police officer to 30 years behind bars — well beyond the 15 years recommended by Minnesota sentencing guidelines — after Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill determined last month that a longer sentence might be appropriate, due to the "aggravating factors" in Chauvin's crime.
However, in a court filing this week, attorneys for Chauvin argue that their client should simply be placed on probation for killing Floyd, due to "substantial and compelling circumstances" in his case.
"Mr. Chauvin respectfully requests that the court [...] pronounce a strict probationary sentence, along with a period of incarceration equal to the time he has already served," Eric Nelson, Chauvin's lawyer, wrote in a motion submitted in Hennepin County on Wednesday. "In the alternative, Mr. Chauvin respectfully requests that the court grant him a downward durational departure."
According to Nelson, Chauvin's age, lack of criminal history, odds of being targeted in prison, and "the unusual facts of this case" merit a significantly reduced punishment for choking the life out of Floyd.
The shockingly lax sentence being requested by Nelson may be as much a tactical decision as it is a sincere offer, according to University of St. Thomas Law School professor Mark Osler, who spoke with local ABC affiliate KTSP after Nelson's motion was filed.
"There is a tactic going on as well, which is if you ask for a lot, maybe you'll get a little,” Osler told the station. “I think that it's fair to think that the defense, as much as anything, wants the sentence not to be enhanced over the guideline range."
The change in focus from Chauvin's now-official guilt to his ultimate sentence marks a new phase in the broader series of events Floyd's death set in motion more than a year ago. With Chauvin scheduled to be sentenced on June 25, eyes now turn to the trial of the other three former Minneapolis police officers who stood by while Floyd died under Chauvin's knee. J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao are all set to be tried on Aug. 23.
In another sign that the city of Minneapolis is moving ahead with efforts to resolve the tragedy of Floyd's death for good, construction crews began the long-promised project of opening the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue to vehicular traffic, effectively dismantling what has become known as George Floyd Square. The effort requires relegating the central memorial constructed in Floyd's memory to a smaller, more discrete art installation, rather than a focal point for what had been a pedestrian-only enclosure.
"The fact of the matter that they try to come at 5 o’clock in the morning to try and displace us is further proof that they’re trying to marginalize us even more," organizer Jay Webb told Minnesota Public Radio. "They call it George Floyd Square. Look at all the other squares in the world — you walk through them."