The politics of murder

When George Floyd died under Officer Derek Chauvin's knee, there was nearly universal revulsion at obvious police misconduct.  This belied the narrative that black lives don't matter to white people, or that the American institutions, media, and people ignore police brutality, especially when directed at African-Americans.  The serious charges filed against Chauvin and the other officers present at Floyd's death demonstrates this yet again, but unfortunately, as with every aspect of this case, that process has become legally and politically fraught. 

Chauvin was arrested and charged four days after the incident, remarkably fast under the circumstances, and appropriately charged (under Minnesota law) with third-degree murder.  The third-degree charge alleged that Chauvin perpetrated "an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life."  Conviction carries a maximum sentence of 25 years.

Now, in some states, "depraved mind" or "depraved heart" murder is simply considered second-degree murder, there being no "third degree" as in Minnesota.  The key legally is that this type of murder (whether designated third or second degree) does not require direct intent to kill, but rather extreme recklessness and indifference. 

Nonetheless, and rather predictably, critics and "protesters" demanded that charges be increased to second-degree murder, even though the third-degree charges fit the case in Minnesota.  And that's what's happened now, after Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison took over the case from local prosecutors.  Ellison can't prove intent to kill Floyd (at least the way he'd like to), so he plans to get around it by charging the case as a kind of felony-murder.  That is, the new charge (which carries a sentence of 40 years) alleges that Chauvin committed the felony of aggravated assault, and then Floyd died, so it's a felony that became a killing.

The problem with this trumped up charge is that the prosecution still has to prove intent for the assault, which in the end is pretty much the same as proving intent to kill.  Whether Ellison has really thought this through or is merely playing to the mob (much more likely) is unclear. 

Another interesting wrinkle in the case is why Ellison (and the mob wanting to see Chauvin effectively crucified) hasn't pursued a first-degree murder charge against the former officer.  Here the waters get even muddier. 

There is strong evidence that Chauvin and Floyd knew each other.  We know that for at least the whole of 2019, they worked at the same place, the El Nuevo Rodeo Club.  And they worked there in similar capacities, Floyd as a bouncer and Chauvin doing off-duty security work.  Chauvin had done this at El Nuevo for 17 years, Floyd for at least since 2019 (maybe longer).  It's unclear whether they interacted, but it seems that considering their respective jobs and the length of time they were together, it would have been inevitable, though not necessarily memorable.  However, considering that Floyd was a very large man (known as "big Floyd" to some), and also had a criminal record, including for a past home invasion, it would be unusual if Chauvin, a police officer trained to be observant, hadn't gotten to know Floyd one way or another, and vice versa.  A very strange coincidence.

Now, if I'm a really honest prosecutor, seeking justice and not merely a political passion play, I am on this like a big dog.  If perpetrator and victim knew each other, the chances that this indeed is first degree murder go way up. 

Yet we've heard next to nothing about this aspect of the case from Ellison or anybody else.  When asked recently on Good Morning America whether he might yet pursue first-degree murder charges against Chauvin, Ellison didn't rule it out but didn't seem enthused, and he implied that if he did it, it would be because somehow Chauvin formed a "premeditation" while pinning Floyd down, something almost impossible to prove, but to not charge for show.  But if the two knew one another, that case gets much better.

The reason for Ellison's hesitation, and the lack of media interest in the Chauvin-Floyd connection, is obvious.   If Chauvin killed Floyd for personal reasons, which would make his crime much worse, it would undermine the left-media narrative of this case, which is that Floyd was killed only because he was a black man.  And because neither Chauvin himself nor his attorneys will have any interest in making that case, either, it's quite likely we will never know the truth.

When George Floyd died under Officer Derek Chauvin's knee, there was nearly universal revulsion at obvious police misconduct.  This belied the narrative that black lives don't matter to white people, or that the American institutions, media, and people ignore police brutality, especially when directed at African-Americans.  The serious charges filed against Chauvin and the other officers present at Floyd's death demonstrates this yet again, but unfortunately, as with every aspect of this case, that process has become legally and politically fraught. 

Chauvin was arrested and charged four days after the incident, remarkably fast under the circumstances, and appropriately charged (under Minnesota law) with third-degree murder.  The third-degree charge alleged that Chauvin perpetrated "an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life."  Conviction carries a maximum sentence of 25 years.

Now, in some states, "depraved mind" or "depraved heart" murder is simply considered second-degree murder, there being no "third degree" as in Minnesota.  The key legally is that this type of murder (whether designated third or second degree) does not require direct intent to kill, but rather extreme recklessness and indifference. 

Nonetheless, and rather predictably, critics and "protesters" demanded that charges be increased to second-degree murder, even though the third-degree charges fit the case in Minnesota.  And that's what's happened now, after Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison took over the case from local prosecutors.  Ellison can't prove intent to kill Floyd (at least the way he'd like to), so he plans to get around it by charging the case as a kind of felony-murder.  That is, the new charge (which carries a sentence of 40 years) alleges that Chauvin committed the felony of aggravated assault, and then Floyd died, so it's a felony that became a killing.

The problem with this trumped up charge is that the prosecution still has to prove intent for the assault, which in the end is pretty much the same as proving intent to kill.  Whether Ellison has really thought this through or is merely playing to the mob (much more likely) is unclear. 

Another interesting wrinkle in the case is why Ellison (and the mob wanting to see Chauvin effectively crucified) hasn't pursued a first-degree murder charge against the former officer.  Here the waters get even muddier. 

There is strong evidence that Chauvin and Floyd knew each other.  We know that for at least the whole of 2019, they worked at the same place, the El Nuevo Rodeo Club.  And they worked there in similar capacities, Floyd as a bouncer and Chauvin doing off-duty security work.  Chauvin had done this at El Nuevo for 17 years, Floyd for at least since 2019 (maybe longer).  It's unclear whether they interacted, but it seems that considering their respective jobs and the length of time they were together, it would have been inevitable, though not necessarily memorable.  However, considering that Floyd was a very large man (known as "big Floyd" to some), and also had a criminal record, including for a past home invasion, it would be unusual if Chauvin, a police officer trained to be observant, hadn't gotten to know Floyd one way or another, and vice versa.  A very strange coincidence.

Now, if I'm a really honest prosecutor, seeking justice and not merely a political passion play, I am on this like a big dog.  If perpetrator and victim knew each other, the chances that this indeed is first degree murder go way up. 

Yet we've heard next to nothing about this aspect of the case from Ellison or anybody else.  When asked recently on Good Morning America whether he might yet pursue first-degree murder charges against Chauvin, Ellison didn't rule it out but didn't seem enthused, and he implied that if he did it, it would be because somehow Chauvin formed a "premeditation" while pinning Floyd down, something almost impossible to prove, but to not charge for show.  But if the two knew one another, that case gets much better.

The reason for Ellison's hesitation, and the lack of media interest in the Chauvin-Floyd connection, is obvious.   If Chauvin killed Floyd for personal reasons, which would make his crime much worse, it would undermine the left-media narrative of this case, which is that Floyd was killed only because he was a black man.  And because neither Chauvin himself nor his attorneys will have any interest in making that case, either, it's quite likely we will never know the truth.