A 3d Degree Murder Charge for Derek Chauvin

The Story:

The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd on May 25, 2020, got underway last week. On the first day of trial the charges were: second degree murder, and manslaughter. Two days into the trial, a new charge was added: third degree murder. That charge serves as a potential “compromise verdict.” It had been part of the original complaint but the defense had successfully had it dismissed: then an appeal court allowed for its reinstatement.


Chauvin, a white man, had his boot on the neck of George Floyd for more than eight minutes. Floyd was handcuffed on the ground next to the police car, pleading that he couldn’t breathe, until … he went limp. He was later declared dead. The boot-on-neck was captured by cell phone video and went viral.

The trial may prove more complicated than casual observers (who have seen the eight-minute videotape) may expect. One key point: there were two distinct autopsies of Mr. Floyd: one by the county medical examiner and one by an independent forensic pathologist hired by the decedent’s family.

The Thing to Know:

The medical examiner found “no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation.” It said that the “subdual, restraint, and neck compression” brought about a heart attack. The independent autopsy, on the other hand, said that the cause of death was asphyxia. Floyd was a homicide victim who died for the specific reason he himself provided: he couldn’t breath.

Both reports call this homicide, but the distinction between the two reports will likely encourage the defendant to make the trial about the cause of death, and so about reasonable doubt.

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