On Thursday, the Minneapolis judge overseeing the trial of Derek Chauvin—the police officer who killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in May of 2020, setting off a wave of protests against racism and police brutality around the country—allowed prosecutors to add an additional charge of third-degree murder against Chauvin.
Chauvin is already facing a more serious count of second-degree murder for his role in Floyd’s death, which included pinning Floyd’s neck under his knee for at least 8 minutes 15 seconds. Adding the charge of third-degree murder ups the likelihood that Chauvin will be held accountable by jurors, even if prosecutors are ultimately unable to prove second-degree murder.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Chauvin would likely face roughly 11 to 15 years in prison, though the maximum penalty is up to 40 years. The maximum penalty for the added third-degree murder charge is 25 years in prison, and Chauvin also faces a charge of second-degree manslaughter, which carries with it a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Five of 12 jurors have already been seated, with opening arguments in the case scheduled to begin on March 29.
While Chauvin’s sentencing wouldn’t reverse the profound injustice of Floyd’s death, it’s sadly notable that he is facing murder charges at all. Only one of the three police officers who killed Black medical worker Breonna Taylor in her Louisville home last March was charged, and that was not for causing Taylor’s death but for wanton endangerment of Taylor’s neighbors.