(Reuters) -A Minnesota judge has ruled that aggravating factors were involved in the killing of George Floyd, opening the possibility of a longer sentence for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis policeman convicted of his murder last month.
A jury found Chauvin, 45, guilty of second and third-degree murder and manslaughter after hearing three weeks of testimony in a highly publicized trial. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 25.
In a six-page ruling dated Tuesday, District Court Judge Peter Cahill found that prosecutors had shown there were four aggravating factors in the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man.
The judge said Chauvin, who is white, abused his position of trust and authority and treated Floyd with particular cruelty. He committed the crime as part of a group with three other officers and did so with children present, Cahill ruled.
"The slow death of George Floyd occurring over approximately six minutes of his positional asphyxia was particularly cruel in that Mr. Floyd was begging for his life and obviously terrified by the knowledge that he was likely to die but during which the defendant objectively remained indifferent to Mr. Floyd's pleas," Cahill wrote.
Floyd's death after he was handcuffed on a Minneapolis street with Chauvin's knee on his neck for more than nine minutes prompted massive protests against racism and police brutality in many U.S. cities and other countries.
Attorneys for Floyd's family applauded Cahill's ruling.
"The application of justice in this case offers hope that we will see real change in the relationship between police and people of color by holding officers properly accountable for egregious behavior and for failing to honor the sanctity of all lives,” the attorneys said in a statement.
Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, had no comment when asked for a response.
The other former officers who were at the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd's death and are set to go on trial on Aug. 23.
Cahill, who presided over the trial, will also sentence Chauvin. He faces a combined maximum 75 years in prison if the sentences run consecutively. State guidelines give judges leeway to impose sentences that are far less harsh.
Prosecutors on April 30 asked Cahill to consider several aggravating circumstances in Floyd's death so that he could make "an upward sentencing departure" in the case.
While Cahill accepted most of the prosecution's arguments that aggravating circumstances were present, he rejected one of them, finding that lawyers for the state had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Floyd was "particularly vulnerable."
A ruling by Cahill is pending on a May 4 request by the defense for a new trial. Nelson, Chauvin's lawyer, argued that his client was deprived of a fair trial because of prosecutorial and jury misconduct and errors of law at the trial. He also argued that the verdict was contrary to the law.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey, Brendan O'Brien in Chicago and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Howard Goller)