The reinstatement of a third-degree murder charge in former police officer Derek Chauvin's case has some trial watchers disappointed.
Chauvin is again facing three charges in the death of George Floyd last summer in Minneapolis, including the higher charge of second-degree murder and the lower charge of manslaughter.
Civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong said that the serious nature of the case carries a higher need for accountability and punishment than a third-degree murder charge.
"I have some concerns about the reinstatement of the third-degree murder charge, primarily because I'm concerned that it will give jurors an out," Levy Armstrong said.
For second-degree unintentional murder, prosecutors have to prove Chauvin caused Floyd's death while assaulting him. For third-degree murder, prosecutors have to prove Chauvin was acting with a depraved mind and with no regard for preserving human life.
State sentencing guidelines call for identical presumptive prison terms for second- and third-degree murder — a prison sentence of 12 ½ years for someone with no criminal record. Maximum possible sentences vary greatly, though, and prosecutors have said they plan to seek an aggravated sentence for Chauvin above recommended guidelines because of the "particular cruelty" shown to Floyd.
Levy Armstrong said the circumstances of the third-degree murder charge don't seem to fit, though prosecutors likely want another opportunity for conviction.
"When you have a case of this magnitude, with a video that is this graphic, and you have an officer who is able to get away with the possibility of a third-degree murder conviction, it certainly will make it difficult for anyone else who was killed by police to expect that an officer would face more than a third-degree murder charge," she said.
Chauvin pressing his knee on George Floyd's neck for nine minutes goes beyond a typical case where an officer could say they feared for their safety and fired a gun in a split second, she said.
Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality said that third-degree murder is often reserved for those who are not targeting a specific person: firing into a crowd, for example.
"I have concerns. I don't think the charge actually fits. If you look at the elements of the charge, this is a charge that's really meant for people who engage in conduct that they know is likely to result in a death but they don't know who the target is," Gross said.
Former Minneapolis police officer Charles Adams said he believes Chauvin would not be convicted of second-degree murder. "I think the third-degree is a case they can win. I think the second-degree was going to be very, very difficult to convict him of," Adams said.
Gross believes the added charge opens the case to a potential appeal.
The charge also has implications for the trials of the other three officers involved in Floyd's killing. If Chauvin is convicted on a lesser charge, its unlikely the others will face much of a penalty, Levy Armstrong said.
Regardless of the decision, it's a tough moment, Adams said. "Our city is going to be upset regardless of what the verdict is going to be," Adams said.