The lead prosecutor in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial has admitted that he “felt a little bad” for the former Minneapolis police officer after he was convicted of murdering George Floyd last week, though he said he also felt gratitude, humility and satisfaction.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, said his sympathy stemmed from his years spent representing those in Chauvin’s shoes.
“I spent 16 years as a criminal defense lawyer so I will admit I felt a little bad for the defendant,” Ellison said. “I think he deserved to be convicted, but he’s a human being.”
Despite Ellison’s certainty that the jury made the right decision to convict Chauvin of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, he said he was never convinced his team would win the case until the verdict was read on Tuesday.
“I remember what happened in the Rodney King case when I was a pretty young man, young lawyer. And I remember how devastated I felt when I heard the jury acquitted those officers,” he said of the 1992 acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers in the beating of King, a Black man.
“Whenever an officer is charged with an offense, particularly when the victim is a person of color, it’s just rare that there’s any accountability,” he said.
He believes it’s this lack of accountability that emboldened Chauvin to remain kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, even as the 46-year-old man repeatedly cried out that he couldn’t breathe and a group of onlookers, filming the scene on their cellphones, screamed for him to get up off him.
“What we saw was that the crowd was demanding that he get up and he was staring right back at them defiantly. ‘You don’t tell me what to do. I do what I want to do. You people have no control over me. I’m going to show you,’” Ellison portrayed Chauvin as saying through his actions.
“If he looks at history, he has every reason to believe that he would never be held accountable. There had never been anyone in Minnesota convicted, any police officer convicted of second-degree murder in the history of our state,” he added. “History was on his side.”
As for Chauvin’s motive, Ellison defended his decision not to pursue a hate crime charge against him, reasoning that there was no supporting evidence that Chauvin was targeting Floyd based on his race. If he had a witness willing to testify to having heard Chauvin make a racial reference during Floyd’s arrest and consequential death, he said, that might have changed things.
Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison when sentenced in June. Ellison said it’s crucial that the court “not go light or go heavy” in its determination.
“The sentence should be tailored to the offense, tailored to the circumstances of the case. The state never wanted revenge against Derek Chauvin; we just wanted accountability,” he said.