Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Derek Chauvin Sentencing Hearing. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 25, 2021 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:00]

MATTHEW FRANK, CHAUVIN TRIAL PROSECUTOR: We know that -- I mean, we have all seen it. Mr. Floyd did not want to be in the backseat.

That's it. I mean, that's the rub. It was the need to get him in that backseat, no matter what. And we all saw that, once he was pulled out of that backseat, he calmed right down, even willingly went down to the ground. "I'm going down," he said.

And he went down to the ground, not fighting, not punching. And he was placed initially on his side. He's already handcuffed. He's placed on his side in a recovery position, like he should be, because he's trying to breathe, and then quickly placed prone on the ground face down.

Mr. Chauvin put his left knee on George Floyd's neck, his right knee on George Floyd's back, face down on the pavement. And Officer Kueng stood on Mr. Floyd's waist area, and had Officer Lane hold his feet down.

You could even see Mr. Floyd trying to pull his feet up. We are all going to fight to breathe. Everybody knows that fear when you all of a sudden realize you're having trouble breathing. It's just innate, right? We want to survive. We know we have to breathe.

And there's an automatic reaction when you begin to feel like that is threatened. You can see Mr. Floyd going through that. He tries to pull his feet up. But he's held down by these three officers, while Officer Thao is looking on and later, of course, goes to keep the people who want to help away.

He's placed face down on the pavement so harshly that it rubs the skin off his face. He has injuries to his face from being face down on the pavement. He has injuries to his knuckles from just trying to lift himself up. And he's telling Officer Chauvin: "I can't breathe. I'm dying."

And Mr. Chauvin's response was: Uh-huh.

And all this time, can you imagine what Mr. Floyd is going through? We're going to talk about particular cruelty and torture. Really try to appreciate what he's going through. He knows he's suffocating. We all know that feeling of not being able to breathe enough. And he's begging, he's pleading, and is being ignored. His concerns are being dismissed by somebody who has taken custody, but not care. And he was kept in their prime position for nine-and-a-half minutes

and was suffocated. There's no other way to say it. That's particularly cruel. That is more cruel than a typical second-degree unintentional murder, significantly more. This is not a momentary gunshot, punch to the face.

This is nine-and-a-half minutes of cruelty to a man who was helpless and just begging for his life.

This court found that there were children present, standing only a few feet from these officers. These children, who were ages 17 and one child age 9. Why is that an aggravating factor? Well, I think everybody can figure that out, right? It's particularly bad to commit a crime in front of children.

We have heard a lot of academia about the development of the young brain and how long it can take. And here you have got a couple of teenage girls, a 9-year-old girl. How are they going to process this, you know, standing feet from a man being suffocated by police officers?

Such a stark sight that one of the children even says, we got to call the police on the police. How do you process that as a 9-year-old?

The children are not only present watching a man die. We have all seen -- if you haven't, you really need to look at George Floyd's face. As he's dying, he's suffering. The children have to watch this, but not only that. It's police officers. And there are people around them wanting to help.

And, at one point -- and, sure, they got upset. And, at one point, Mr. Sheldon points his mace, grabs his mace to keep them back.

How's a child look at that? There's another officer screaming at them to get back.

The typical second-degree unintentional murder doesn't involve children standing feet away, watching a nine-and-a-half minute suffocation of a man begging for his life.

[15:05:17]

This court also made a finding that the defendant committed the offense with the involvement of three or more other persons. Lane and Kueng were involved directly in the restraint, and that Thao kept the bystanders at bay.

I have already talked a little bit about Lane and Kueng's role in holding Mr. Floyd down. They recognized that he was pulseless, that Mr. Floyd was pulseless at one point, and yet really made no effort to take care of the person in their custody.

Officer Thao watched most of the suffocation, and then only went over to keep people from getting help, one person who was identified as a medical trained firefighter for the city of Minneapolis, and that was dismissed. Like, are we going to believe her?

So they kept trained medical people from providing help. These were all uniformed peace officers, adding to that abuse of trusted authority.

Now, I know the defense has asked the court for probation. I'm not going to spend a lot of time arguing that. It's so outside of the realm of, I think, real possibility.

This is a murder. I understand some of the arguments made on behalf of Mr. Chauvin. I understand -- well, no, I can't understand what his family members and friends are going through. I can't. But it's certainly not enough for a departure to probation for a second-degree murder.

We believe, Your Honor, that these four aggravating factors and the findings that the court has made certainly justify an upward departure, because there are four of them, not standing alone, but, in a sense, not overlapping, but coming together to show this is not the typical second-degree murder. This is egregious.

And this justifies a double upward departure. From the top of the box, which is 180 months, we're asking the court to do a double departure, recognizing all four factors, to 360 months.

As I mentioned before, Your Honor, this is sentencing. This is the time for victims, right? This is the time for the loved ones of the victim and the community to have a say.

Again, I commend this family. I commend all of the loved ones, the friends, the people that have been involved in this case for tolerating and being gracious.

None of us, of course, can bring George Floyd back. That's very true. But this is the time for our criminal justice system to say, we hear you. This is the time for their criminal justice system to say, we recognize that this harm you're going through is real, and while we can't feel what you're feeling, we know we can do what your criminal justice system should do, and recognize the severity of this crime and reflect that in the sentence to be given.

It's time for this criminal justice system to say, we recognize this is more serious than a typical second-degree unintentional murder. The four reasons the court found reflect that and give this court more than an adequate basis to do that.

Your Honor, we ask the court to impose a sentence of 360 months to the commissioner of corrections. As you know, Your Honor, there are no fines in murder cases.

And we would ask the court just to reserve the issue of restitution, as we can clarify that with the family and present that to the court, for 30 days.

Thank you, Your Honor.

PETER CAHILL, HENNEPIN COUNTY, MINNESOTA, JUDGE: Anything further from the state?

FRANK: No, Your Honor.

CAHILL: All right.

Mr. Nelson.

I'm sorry.

Mr. Blackwell?

JERRY BLACKWELL, CHAUVIN TRIAL PROSECUTOR: I'm sorry.

I just...

[15:10:01]

ERIC NELSON, ATTORNEY FOR DEREK CHAUVIN: Thank you, Your Honor.

Your Honor, at this time, the defendant's mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, would like to address the court.

CAHILL: If you could state your full name, spelling each of your names, and proceed when you're ready.

CAROLYN PAWLENTY, MOTHER OF DEREK CHAUVIN: Thanks.

Carolyn -- C-A-R-O-L-Y-N -- Pawlenty -- P-A-W-L-E-N-T-Y.

I am the mother of Derek Chauvin. I am here to speak on behalf of my entire family.

On November 25, 2020, not only did Derek's life changed forever, but so did mine and my family's.

Derek devoted 19 years of his life to the Minneapolis Police Department. It has been difficult for me to hear and read what the media, public and prosecution team believe Derek to be, an aggressive, heartless and uncaring person.

I can tell you, that is far from the truth. My son's identity has also been reduced to that as of -- that as a racist.

Want this court to know that none of these things are true and that my son is a good man. Derek always dedicated his life and time to the police department. Even on his days off, he would call in to see if they needed help.

Derek is a quiet, thoughtful, honorable and selfless man. He has a big heart, and he always has put others before his own. The public will never know the loving and caring man he is, but his family does.

Even though I have not spoken publicly, I have always supported him 100 percent and always will. Derek has played over and over in his head the events of that day. I have seen the toll it has taken on him. I believe a lengthy sentence will not serve Derek well. When you

sentence my son, you will also be sentencing me. I will not be able to see Derek, talk to him on the phone, or give him our special hug, plus the fact that, when he is released, his father and I most likely will not be here.

Derek, my happiest moment is when I gave birth to you. And my second is when I was honored to pin your police badge on you. I remember you whispering to me: "Don't stick me with it."

Derek, I want you to know I have always believed in your innocence. And I will never waver from that.

I have read numerous letters from people around the world that also believe in your innocence. No matter where you go, where you are, I will always be there to visit you. I promise you I will stay strong, as we talked about, and I want you to do the same for me.

I will do what you told me to do, take care of myself, so I will be here for you when you have come home.

[15:15:03]

Remember there is no stronger bond or love than a mother's love.

One final thought I want you to remember. Remember you are my favorite son.

Thank you for your time.

CAHILL: Thank you very much.

NELSON: Thank you very much, Your Honor.

It is my intent that my remarks this afternoon be quite brief. I do not intend to relitigate the facts of this case, nor spend any substantial time looking at the law.

The court is very familiar with the facts of this case. And the parties have fully briefed the court relevant to the sentencing factors. And we recognize that, in any case, any sentencing that comes before the court, the court is tasked with a difficult job.

The court must craft a sentence that serves the interests of justice, a rather nebulous term. The court must take into consideration victim impact, public interest, as well as the circumstances and the history of the defendant.

And, in this case, more than any other that likely any of us have ever been involved in, that task is exceedingly more difficult.

In my remarks today, I just wish to briefly address each of those three considerations, starting with the public impact.

As I believe we're all cognizant of, this case is at the epicenter of a cultural and political divide. We tried to keep a lot of that out of the courtroom during trial and make this case about the facts. But we recognize what has happened as a result of this case.

There are a great number of people who will view any sentence you pronounce as overly lenient and insufficient to satisfy justice. But there are an equal number of people who will view any sentence you pronounce as draconian or overbearing.

Either way, some percentage of the public will view your sentence as a miscarriage of justice.

The intensity of the public interest in this case cannot be understated. I trust that the volume of correspondence that each of us has received from the public at large is indicative of these very sentiments on both sides.

As I was informed just yesterday, the attorney general's office established a Web site, a Web submission, to accept community impact statements. Again, and my understanding is, in a little over two weeks, they received over 1,000 submissions, again, on both sides.

By my very best estimate, since my representation of Mr. Chauvin began last summer, I would estimate that I have received over 5,000 e-mails, over 1,000 voice-mails, and hundreds and hundreds of handwritten letters, again, from both sides.

And I expect that Your Honor has likewise been inundated with public comment and scrutiny.

The impact that this case has had on this community is profound. It goes far beyond what happened on May 25 of last year. It has been at the forefront of our national consciousness, and it has weaved its way into every -- nearly every facet of our lives, from the entertainment that we consume to the presidential politics, from protests to conspiracy theories.

In the end, it is my sincere hope that, when this proverbial dust settles, the community -- the community impact brings forth principled debate and civil public discourse, and ultimately leaves a public -- positive effect on the city of Minneapolis, the state of Minnesota, and the United States.

[15:20:00]

But, nevertheless, while this court may consider the community impact, it is for these very same reasons that the court must turn to the foundational legal principles and remember that justice is blind.

Law is built on reason and common sense. And it cannot be permitted to be assailed by public opinion.

Turning to the second consideration, which is the victim impact, the death of George Floyd, the death of George Floyd was tragic. He is loved by his family members. He is loved by his friends. And his death is justifiably mourned by those whose lives he impacted.

He is a son, a brother, a father, an uncle, and a friend to many. And, as the court heard today, the impact and the loss of his life -- of the loss of his life simply just can't be simplified. And it will take time.

Finally, Your Honor, the court must take into consideration -- just like it has to take into consideration the aggravating factors, it needs to take into consideration the mitigating factors.

And the mitigating factors as set forth by the sentencing guidelines really point to the Trog analysis, essentially, ultimately, in this case. I'm not going to spend a lot of time again arguing for a probationary sentence. That's briefed.

But, that being said, when we look at the Trog factors, who is Derek Chauvin? Derek Chauvin spent 19 years as a Minneapolis police officer. He loved being a police officer.

I was contacted during the course of my representation and have had numerous conversations with his fellow police officers or fellow police officers that worked with Derek, some retired, some still active. And they told me that he was a solid police officer, that he did his job, that, if somebody asked him to do a particular task, he never complained. He did it.

One person told me that, if -- one of his sergeants told me that: If I had asked him to dig a ditch for eight hours, he would have picked up a shovel and he would have never complained for a second. He would have done his job.

He was decorated as a police officer, multiple lifesaving awards. He was decorated for valor. He was proud to be a police officer because what he liked to do was help people.

And as the statistics show, the vast majority of police work is helping people. He was proud to be a Minneapolis police officer. He served his country of the United States in the United States Army. And he, too, is a son, a brother, and a father, and a friend.

He too, his life, the life he's lived, he's not coming into this as a career criminal with six points, five points, four points. He's coming into this never having violated the law, because he lived an honorable life and he attempted to live an honorable life.

Derek Chauvin was not even scheduled to work on May 25 in 2020. He volunteered because there was short staffing at the time.

I know, from numerous conversations that I have had with Derek, that his brain is littered with what-ifs: What if I just had not agreed to go in that day? What if things had gone differently? What if I never responded to that call? What if? What if? What if?

The truth of the matter is and the end result is, is that we are here after a jury verdict finding him guilty of these offenses. And the court's consideration should not only be focused on the aggravating factors, but the mitigating factors as well.

The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission was established for a reason. And, yes, the court in circumstances like these has discretion to go beyond -- an aggravated sentence beyond the presumptive sentences established by the sentencing guidelines.

[15:25:01]

But the sentencing guidelines don't differentiate between second- degree murders, someone robs a liquor store, a police officer is involved in an incident, and a person dies in police custody, the law presumes. The legislature presumes that the sentencing guidelines, as established, is a sufficient penalty for all of the second-degree murder categories or cases you would see.

From 2019 back to 2010, a total of 90 people were sentenced for second-degree murder. Those sentences -- those people -- there were more than that, but people who had a zero criminal history score, more than 90 people were sentenced; 67 percent, or 60 of those 90 people, received a guideline sentence of 150 months.

So, two-thirds of all people in this same position received a guideline sentence; 20 percent received an aggravated sentence, 18 of the 90. And 12 -- or -- excuse me -- 13 percent, or 12 individuals, were granted mitigated departures.

So, if the legislature and the intent of the sentencing guidelines is to eliminate sentencing disparity, the law should presume that the guideline sentence is what is appropriate in this case. A judge may take -- may take into consideration at this point those aggravating factors, but you have to counterbalance them, which is the goal of the law, with the mitigating factors.

I know that this has been an incredibly difficult case for the Floyd family to have to endure. The state of Minnesota, likewise, the prosecutors in this case, have endured quite a bit, as has Mr. Chauvin's family.

This is a case that is changed -- has changed the world to some degree. And I hope it's positive.

But it's my hope that the court follows the sentencing guidelines, applies the law in a reasoned manner, and imposes a just sentence.

CAHILL: Thanks.

Mr. Chauvin, would you join Mr. Nelson at the lectern?

Mr. Chauvin, this is your opportunity, if you wish, to give any input to the court. And so I turn it over to you and your attorney.

DEREK CHAUVIN, CONVICTED FELON: Thank you, Your Honor.

At this time, due to some additional legal matters at hand, I'm not able to give a full formal statement at this time.

But, very briefly, though, I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family. There's going to be some other information in the future that would be of interest, and I hope things will give you some -- some peace of mind. Thank you.

CAHILL: And I will note that I did read your comments in the pre- sentence investigation as well.

CHAUVIN: Thank you, Your Honor.

CAHILL: All right, we are going to take a 15 minute recess so that I can complete the sentencing order, based on what I have heard today. And let's reconvene at 2:45.

We're in recess.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, welcome back.

We have just had about an hour of the beginning of the sentencing hearing. A 15-minute break, we heard there, from Judge Peter Cahill. And he will then come back with his decision on the sentence for Derek Chauvin.

Let's broaden this out now. We have got CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elie Honig, CNN political commentator Van Jones, CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers, and CNN senior law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey.

We have heard each side make their case, but this started with just heart-wrenching victim impact statements.

Van, I'm going to come to you first, hearing from Gianna at the start, 7 years old.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Just unbelievable.

I mean, you think about all the little kids that you know, your own children, just saying: My daddy used to helped me brush my teeth.

I mean, that's how little kids process the people in their lives, the hugs, the snuggles, the jokes. Like, I want to play games with my daddy. I ask about him every day.

I mean, the trial is for the facts. The sentencing is for the feelings. And I thought the family did a beautiful job of delivering what it has meant, from the oldest person in the family that had traveled the world speaking out for justice.

[15:30:00]