This handout file photo provided by the Hennepin County Jail shows Derek Chauvin in a booking photo. - AFP

MINNEAPOLIS, US: Twelve years in prison? Twenty, or even 30? On Friday, former policeman Derek Chauvin will hear his sentence for the murder of African-American George Floyd, a killing that sparked America's biggest demonstrations for racial justice in decades. Minnesota law provides for a minimum sentence of 12.5 years behind bars for the 45-year-old white ex-cop, who has been incarcerated since being found guilty of homicide two months ago.

But Judge Peter Cahill, who will hand down the sentence at 1.30 pm (1830 GMT) in a Minneapolis court, identified four aggravating circumstances that could signal a much heavier sentence. He said Chauvin had "abused his position of trust and authority," had treated Floyd with "particular cruelty" in front of minors and "committed the crime as a group with the active participation of at least three other" police officers.

On May 25, 2020, Chauvin and three colleagues arrested Floyd, 46, who was suspected of having passed a fake $20 bill in a store in Minneapolis, a large city in the north of the United States. They handcuffed him and pinned him to the ground in the middle of the street. Chauvin then squatted down with a knee on the back of Floyd's neck for nearly ten minutes, indifferent to the dying man's groans and to the pleas of distraught passers-by.

The scene, filmed and uploaded by a young woman, quickly went viral. After weeks of home confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people poured on to the streets across the country and also in other countries, to demand an end to racism and police brutality. It took weeks for the mass demonstrations to taper off, but the debate around the pressing social issues remain vivid in the United States, where President Joe Biden has been slow to come up with the police reforms he promised during his campaign.

'Good faith'

Against that backdrop, Chauvin's trial was closely followed by millions across the country. The former police officer, who was present for the full six weeks of his trial, refused to testify. His lawyer said he had followed the police procedures in force at the time and that Floyd's death was due to health problems exacerbated by drug use.

The jurors were not convinced and took less than ten hours to find him guilty. Their decision was greeted with a huge sigh of relief across the country -- many had feared an acquittal would lead to worse unrest, while others feared that once again a white police officer would get away with what they saw as murder. Ahead of the sentencing Chauvin's lawyer, Eric Nelson has pleaded that his client made "an error in good faith" and requested a reduced sentence to time already served, which would allow his client to be released immediately.

Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who will be sentenced today Friday for the murder of George Floyd, had a record of using excessive force before the unarmed Black man died under his knee in a crime prosecutors branded a "shocking abuse of authority." Chauvin, described by colleagues as rigid and silent, knelt on the 46-year-old Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes on a Minneapolis street on May 25 last year, despite the dying man's pleas and those of shocked passers-by who filmed the tragedy.

The killing sent reverberations throughout the United States and the world, and launched a reckoning on racial injustice in America. Chauvin's lawyer Eric Nelson has said his client "exuded a calm and professional demeanor" in his interactions with Floyd, and sought to convince the jury that the white ex-cop only applied a hold that was authorized and consistent with his training. - AFP