We want, and expect, a first-degree murder charge


I sympathize with them wanting the steepest penalty for an act that was so depraved. But after reading the statutes, I just don’t see it.

Murder in the first degree in Minnesota has six different categories but most of them (death during a sex crime, death of a minor while committing child abuse, death of a peace officer, etc) don’t work here. There’s only one category that does potentially, causing “the death of a human being with premeditation and with intent to effect the death of the person or of another.”

How do you show premeditation with what Derek Chauvin did to George Floyd?

Crump’s statement actually undercuts the case for murder one, I think, by focusing on poor training of the force by the city. If you think what Chauvin did is premeditated murder then no amount of training is going to correct the problem. Training prevents recklessness and negligence. An officer who intends to kill is going to kill regardless.

Murder in the second degree is more promising. You’re guilty of that if you cause “the death of a human being with intent to effect the death of that person or another, but without premeditation.” Can the D.A. prove Chauvin had the intent, or developed the intent, to kill Floyd during the arrest? His best evidence is the sheer length of time that he had his knee on Floyd’s neck. According to the criminal complaint it was no fewer than eight minutes and 46 seconds, the last two minutes and 53 seconds of which Floyd was unresponsive.

Nine minutes. With people right in front of Chauvin filming him.

It’s easy to watch that video and conclude that he didn’t care if Floyd lived or died. But that’s different from “intent.” If he’s charged with a crime of intent, the jury will be left asking itself, “Did Chauvin want Floyd to die? If he did, why?” There’s nothing on the tape that suggests a motive, like some sort of fight between Floyd and Chauvin before Floyd was down on the ground. Demand that the jury find intent to kill on Chauvin’s part and they very well might let him walk.

Overcharging is a perennial risk in cases where cops are on trial because juries want to give the police the benefit of the doubt. If you leave them room to do that, they just might.

Murder in the third degree, which is what Chauvin was charged with, seems right:

Whoever, without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life, is guilty of murder in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 25 years.

Kneeling on a man’s neck for six minutes while he’s gasping that he can’t breathe and then continuing to kneel on it for another three minutes after he’s lost consciousness does sound like “an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.” The problem is the penalty: 25 years isn’t nearly enough. But that’s what they’re going to end up with.

Speaking of depraved minds, BuzzFeed interviewed another Minnesota resident who claims he had a frightening run-in with Chauvin and another cop years ago when he was a teenager. He and his friends were shooting Nerf dart guns, the guy claims; one dart may have hit someone passing by. Before they knew it, Minneapolis PD was rolling up — with weapons drawn.

Minutes after the car pulled up to Bergh’s house and he got out of the car, Chauvin and his partner pulled up in a police car behind them without any sirens or lights and with “their guns drawn on me,” Bergh said.

“I didn’t know that they were behind us until I turned around and saw them already aiming guns at me,” Bergh said. “It was terrifying.”

The officers shouted at Bergh to “get back in the fucking car” and “put your hands in the fucking air,” he recalled…

Noah Hanson, who was one of the teens inside the car at the time, told BuzzFeed News that the other officer had aimed his gun at them, but did not recall if Chauvin also had his gun out.

Hanson, 23, said the other officer had his gun “pointed directly at my face from two feet away.”

The cops allegedly confiscated the Nerf guns, then took the boy who fired the dart that hit the bystander to the back of the squad car where they called him “a worthless piece of sh*t” and shouted various forms of F-bombs at him for awhile before letting him go. One detail that caught my attention is the claim that Chauvin and his partner arrived without sirens or lights on their car; the man who was shot by Chauvin during an arrest in 2008 that I wrote about this morning also says that the cops showed up at his apartment without announcing themselves. Was that standard practice for Chauvin? If so, why?

Anyway. If they end up boosting the charges here to first-degree murder, he’s going to walk and the city will burn to the ground. The D.A. made the right call, however unsatisfying the penalty may be. Exit quotation from YouGov’s latest poll: “Democrats (90%) are more likely than Independents (76%) and Republicans (68%) to say they thought the Minneapolis officer should be arrested.”





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