Did Derek Chauvin Agree to Plead Guilty to Third-Degree Murder for Killing George Floyd?

On February  10, 2021, Tim Arango. the Los Angeles correspondent for the New York Times, reported shocking news about a purported agreement by Defendant Derek Chauvin to plead guilty to third-degree murder for the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.[1]

Arango’s Report

The Arango article opened by saying that only three days after the killing of George Floyd, “Derek Chauvin, believed that the case against him was so devastating that he agreed to plead guilty to third-degree murder. As part of the deal, officials now say, he was willing to go to prison for more than 10 years. Local officials, scrambling to end the community’s swelling anger, scheduled a news conference to announce the deal.”

Arango continued,:“But at the last minute, according to new details laid out by three law enforcement officials, the deal fell apart after William P. Barr, the attorney general at the time, rejected the arrangement. The deal was contingent on the federal government’s approval because Mr. Chauvin, who had asked to serve his time in a federal prison, wanted assurance he would not face federal civil rights charges.”

Arango also said, “An official said Mr. Barr worried that a plea deal, so early in the process and before a full investigation had concluded, would be perceived as too lenient by the growing number of protesters across America. At the same time, Mr. Barr wanted to allow state officials, who were about to take over the case from the county prosecutor who has had tense relations with Minneapolis’s Black community, to make their own decisions about how to proceed.”


It is true that the original complaint against Chauvin charged him with third-degree murder (and second-degree manslaughter) and was filed with the Hennepin County District Court on May 29 (four days after the killing of Floyd). Perhaps it was served the prior day (three days after the killing). And it was filed by the Hennepin County Attorney just before the Minnesota Governor Tim Walz appointed Attorney General, Keith Ellison, to assume overall responsibility for the case and before Ellison’s June 3 superseding complaint against Chauvin that added the charge of second degree murder.[2]

Thus, Arango’s assertions of the alleged timing of Chauvin’s decision to plead guilty fits the actual circumstances. But it is difficult to believe that the details of such a plea deal, including federal imprisonment, could have been reached in such a short time, and Arando does not say they were.

The reported timing of Chauvin’s own decision to plead guilty also is consistent with the timing of his wife’s filing a divorce petition only six days after the killing and their reported divorce agreement’s assigning her the majority of their assets.[3]

Chauvin’s reported desire to have his imprisonment in a federal, not Minnesota, facility also suggests his fear of Black prison guards in the latter. Such an interpretation also is suggested by recent reports that in May 2020 when Chauvin briefly was detained in the Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul, eight minority-race guards allegedly were barred from working on the floor where Chauvin was being detained. [4]

It also s easy to understand why then U.S. Attorney General Barr purportedly was cautious in his reactions to the purported plea deal in the early development of this case.

Finally the immediate reporting of the killing, including the video taken by a bystander, gives credence to why Chauvin may have been pessimistic about his chances of success at trial.

Nevertheless, it is impossible to reach a definitive conclusion about the accuracy of Arando’s reporting, and it is unlikely that there will be any further reporting about this subject.before or during his trial, still scheduled to start on March 8.


[1] Arango, The Killing of George Floyd Tore Minneapolis Apart. Now Comes the Trial, N.Y. Times (Feb. 10, 2021); Arango, Derek Chauvin agreed to plead guilty to third-degree murder, but Attorney general Barr rejected deal, New York Times says, StarTribune (Feb. 10, 2021)(this is an exact republication of the Times article). Before moving to Los  Angeles Arango spent seven years as the Times’ Baghdad bureau chief.

[2] The Criminal Complaint Against Derek Chauvin Over the Death of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (June 12, 2020).

[3] Derek Chauvin’s Wife’s Divorce Petition Raises Questions,  dwkcommentaries.com (July 8, 2020); State Court Rejects Chauvin Divorce Settlement, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 20, 2020); Complications in Derek Chauvin’s Divorce Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 20, 2021); Comment: Court Approves Redacted Chauvin divorce Agreement, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 4, 2021).

[4] Forliti, 8 minority jail officers allegedly kept off Chauvin’s guard, StarTribune (Feb. 9, 2021).

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

2 thoughts on “Did Derek Chauvin Agree to Plead Guilty to Third-Degree Murder for Killing George Floyd?”

  1. I am skeptical too. I think it is strange that the story doesn’t mention any attorneys, who after all would be doing the negotiating. In any case, it is unbelievable that Chauvin would be so pessimistic about his chances that he would be ready to plead to murder and up to ten years, since convicting cops of anything is difficult, especially of murder. Think of the facts of the Philandro Castile case, who was shot five times while sitting in his car after a traffic stop, and the acquittal of the shooter.

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