MINNEAPOLIS -- The judge who oversaw the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin has declined to revise his sentencing statement to address trauma experienced by four children who witnessed George Floyd’s killing.
The presence of minors at Floyd’s killing was one of the aggravating factors that Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill considered when he sentenced Chauvin to 22.5 years last month. The judge at the time said prosecutors hadn’t proven in court that the children had been traumatized by what they witnessed, citing recordings that showed a couple of the girls smiling or laughing while Floyd was restrained.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison last week asked Cahill to reconsider that conclusion after the girls “witnessed a brutal, minuteslong murder committed by police officers.”
“Discounting the trauma of the children who testified at trial — in an authoritative judicial opinion, no less — will only exacerbate the trauma they have suffered," Ellison wrote. "The Court should correct the public record to avoid that result.”
Ellison argued that young Black girls are seen by some observers as “needing less protection and nurturing than white girls.” He had asked the judge to change the language, and didn’t request that Chauvin’s sentence itself be changed.
Three of the girls were 17 at the time of Floyd’s killing, while a fourth was the age of 9. The witnesses gave emotional testimony at Chauvin’s trial, with Darnella Frazier, who recorded the viral video of Floyd’s murder, telling the court that his killing changed her life: “It's been nights, I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting, and not saving his life."
Cahill noted that two of the girls appeared to be white and two appeared to be Black.
In Cahill’s decision Tuesday, July 13, he said that the state hadn’t proven that the girls had experienced trauma in their arguments for the aggravating factor, and that prosecutors also didn’t take the opportunity to request a separate hearing on the issue before sentencing.
Cahill said he’s aware of the attention that Floyd’s death received, but that he’s constrained in ways that the media, pundits and prosecutors are not.
“This Court may not act on the assumptions or presumptions assayed by the State in its July 7 letter, or on personal opinion,” Cahill wrote. “In sentencing, this Court’s duty is to apply the law to the evidence and facts in the case in imposing a sentence that is rational and just.”
While the judge considered four aggravating factors in sentencing Chauvin, he found that the presence of minors didn’t justify a harsher sentence. He did add 10 years to the presumptive sentence for Chauvin because he found that Chauvin treated Floyd with “particular cruelty” and abused his authority as a police officer.
Chauvin is also facing federal charges for depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights. The next hearing in that case is set for September.