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Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death
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MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of murder and manslaughter for pinning George Floyd to the pavement with his knee on the Black man’s neck in a case that triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious reexamination of racism and policing in the U.S.

Chauvin, 45, was immediately led away with his hands cuffed behind his back and could be sent to prison for decades.

The verdict — guilty as charged on all counts, in a relatively swift, across-the-board victory for Floyd’s supporters — set off jubilation mixed with sorrow across the city and around the nation. Hundreds of people poured into the streets of Minneapolis, some running through traffic with banners. Drivers blared their horns in celebration.

“Today, we are able to breathe again,” Floyd’s younger brother Philonise said at a joyous family news conference where tears streamed down his face as he likened Floyd to the 1955 Mississippi lynching victim Emmett Till, except that this time there were cameras around to show the world what happened.

The jury of six whites and six Black or multiracial people came back with its verdict after about 10 hours of deliberations over two days. The now-fired white officer was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Chauvin’s face was obscured by a COVID-19 mask, and little reaction could be seen beyond his eyes darting around the courtroom. His bail was immediately revoked. Sentencing will be in two months; the most serious charge carries up to 40 years in prison.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson followed Chauvin out of the courtroom without comment.

President Joe Biden welcomed the verdict, saying Floyd’s death was “a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world” to see systemic racism.

But he warned: “It’s not enough. We can’t stop here. We’re going to deliver real change and reform. We can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen again.”

The jury’s decision was hailed around the country as justice by other political and civic leaders and celebrities, including former President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a white man, who said on Twitter that Floyd “would still be alive if he looked like me. That must change.”

At a park next to the Minneapolis courthouse, a hush fell over a crowd of about 300 as they listened to the verdict on their cellphones. Then a great roar went up, with many people hugging, some shedding tears.

At the intersection where Floyd was pinned down, a crowd chanted, “One down, three to go!” — a reference to the three other fired Minneapolis officers facing trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder in Floyd’s death.

Janay Henry, who lives nearby, said she felt grateful and relieved.

“I feel grounded. I can feel my feet on the concrete,” she said, adding that she was looking forward to the “next case with joy and optimism and strength.”

Jamee Haggard, who brought her biracial 4-year-old daughter to the intersection, said: “There’s some form of justice that’s coming.”

The verdict was read in a courthouse ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops, in a city on edge against another round of unrest — not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a young Black man, Daunte Wright, in a Minneapolis suburb April 11.

The jurors’ identities were kept secret and will not be released until the judge decides it is safe to do so.

It is unusual for police officers to be prosecuted for killing someone on the job. And convictions are extraordinarily rare.

Out of the thousands of deadly police shootings in the U.S. since 2005, fewer than 140 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter, according to data maintained by Phil Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University. Before Tuesday, only seven were convicted of murder.

Juries often give police officers the benefit of the doubt when they claim they had to make split-second, life-or-death decisions. But that was not an argument Chauvin could easily make.

Floyd, 46, died May 25 after being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a corner market. He panicked, pleaded that he was claustrophobic and struggled with police when they tried to put him in a squad car. They put him on the ground instead.

The centerpiece of the case was the excruciating bystander video of Floyd gasping repeatedly, “I can’t breathe” and onlookers yelling at Chauvin to stop as the officer pressed his knee on or close to Floyd’s neck for what authorities say was 9 1/2 minutes, including several minutes after Floyd’s breathing had stopped and he had no pulse.

Prosecutors played the footage at the earliest opportunity, during opening statements, and told the jury: “Believe your eyes.” From there it was shown over and over, analyzed one frame at a time by witnesses on both sides.

In the wake of Floyd’s death, demonstrations and scattered violence broke out in Minneapolis, around the country and beyond. The furor also led to the removal of Confederate statues and other offensive symbols such as Aunt Jemima.

In the months that followed, numerous states and cities restricted the use of force by police, revamped disciplinary systems or subjected police departments to closer oversight.

The “Blue Wall of Silence” that often protects police accused of wrongdoing crumbled after Floyd’s death. The Minneapolis police chief quickly called it “murder” and fired all four officers, and the city reached a staggering $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family as jury selection was underway.

Police-procedure experts and law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department, including the chief, testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training.

Medical experts for the prosecution said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him, a knee on his neck and his face jammed against the ground.

Chauvin’s attorney called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to try to make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of a heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.

Under the law, police have certain leeway to use force and are judged according to whether their actions were “reasonable” under the circumstances.

The defense also tried to make the case that Chauvin and the other officers were hindered in their duties by what they perceived as a growing, hostile crowd.

Chauvin did not testify, and all that the jury or the public ever heard by way of an explanation from him came from a police body-camera video after an ambulance had taken the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Floyd away. Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ‘cause he’s a sizable guy ... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”

The prosecution’s case also included tearful testimony from onlookers who said the police kept them back when they protested what was happening.

Eighteen-year-old Darnella Frazier, who shot the crucial video, said Chauvin gave the bystanders a “cold” and “heartless” stare. She and others said they felt a sense of helplessness and lingering guilt from witnessing Floyd’s slow-motion death.

“It’s been nights I stayed up, apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” she testified.

Finding a spark: Project helps grow Spring Hill ISD welding program
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A project is giving students in Spring Hill ISD’s welding program practice in profiting from their hard work.

Students are selling a trailer they built with proceeds going back into the district’s welding program.

Spring Hill Assistant Superintendent Adrian Knight said the welding teacher, Grant Mars, has helped bring a new perspective to the program.

“It’s not just about a career, but he’s also showing the students how this is a skill that can turn into a profitable hobby,” Knight said. “Finding scrap metal and putting it together, finding low-cost or free materials to put them together and turn it into something usable or saleable. He’s had a really good impact on the program.”

The students recently completed a 5-foot by 10-foot bumper pull trailer with a tailgate, Knight said. The trailer is available for purchase for $1,400, and the money will go back into the program.

“For a lot of these students, this was the first project they ever got to work on, especially as a team,” he said. “It was not an individual project. There were students every class period that got to work on that trailer and had a hand in it.”

Knight said even some of the students in the eighth-grade welding program had a chance to help out.

“It was really neat to watch the students all throughout the day take part in the process,” he said. “They got inspired and wanted to help out in some way. (Mars) really was able to engage all the students across the board.”

Knight said the money hopefull will fund field trips to see programs at Kilgore College, Texas State Technical College in Marshall or businesses where students can see welding in action. It also could be used for scholarships.

The district is putting more resources into the program to help it grow, Knight said.

“Looking ahead, we’re doing some upgrading in our facility and updating the equipment we have available for students to work on,” he said. “We will be offering some dual-credit welding courses in the fall with Kilgore college. We’ve had representatives from KC go through our shop area and provide some advice on approaches we can take to get some students some dual-credit hours, and we’ll be able to offer it here.”

Adding those dual-credit courses will be a “tremendous benefit” to students who never thought about taking that route before because they wanted technical courses, Knight said.

“It might encourage them to do a college class and get college hours, and it might inspire them to pursue more courses in college and maybe some other courses down the road,” he said.

Anyone interested in purchasing the trailer can contact Mars at gmars@shisd.net .

FAA confirms pilot death in Rusk County plane crash

The Federal Aviation Administration has confirmed the death of the pilot in a plane crash Monday afternoon in Rusk County, according to preliminary crash report released Tuesday.

Around 3:20 p.m., the Rusk County Sheriff’s Office received a call about a plane crash northeast of Tatum, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

DPS Sgt. Sara Warren said the crash happened near Rusk County roads 2212 and 2214, about nine miles east of East Texas Regional Airport.

According to the FAA initial crash notice, the “aircraft crashed under unknown circumstances” and the damage was listed as “substantial.”

Rusk County Sheriff Johnwayne Valdez said in a Facebook post that fire was extinguished at the crash site by first responders.

The FAA notice reported the plane to be a Cessna 340, and the pilot was the only occupant on board at the time.

The identity of the pilot has not been released, however, according to the plane’s registration information, it is owned by William J. Weatherspoon of Longview.

Rusk County Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Patrick Dooley said the pilot was taking the plane for a “routine maintenance flight” when the crash happened, according to CBS19.

The crash remains under investigation and is listed as an “accident.”

EU agency links J&J shot to rare clots, says odds favor use
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LONDON — The European Union’s drug regulatory agency said Tuesday that it found a “possible link” between Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine and extremely rare blood clots and recommended a warning be added to the label. But experts at the agency reiterated that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks.

The European Medicines Agency made its determination after examining a small number of clot cases in people vaccinated in the U.S. It said these problems should be considered “very rare side effects of the vaccine.”

J&J immediately announced it will revise its label as requested and resume vaccine shipments to the EU, Norway and Iceland. In a statement, it said: “The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our number one priority.”

Following the EMA’s decision, EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides tweeted that vaccinations save lives and added: “I urge Member States to follow the opinion of our experts.”

Dutch health minister Hugo de Jonge said the Netherlands would start immunizing with the J&J vaccine on Wednesday.

In March, the EMA, which oversees the use of pharmaceutical products in 27 countries across the continent with a combined population of about 448 million, likewise recommended a label change for AstraZeneca’s vaccine after finding a link between it and rare blood clots.

In both cases, the agency said the benefits of being immunized against COVID-19 outweigh the very small risks of developing the unusual clots.

“There is untold human suffering behind all of these (coronavirus) cases,” said Emer Cooke, the EMA’s executive director, noting that 3 million people worldwide have died in the outbreak. “These vaccines play an immensely important role in combating this pandemic.”

Last week, J&J halted its European rollout of the vaccine after U.S. officials recommended a pause in its use because of six cases of a very rare type of blood clot among nearly 7 million Americans vaccinated with the formula.

European officials said they considered all available evidence from the U.S., which ultimately consisted of eight cases, including one death. All occurred in people under 60, but the EMA said that it hadn’t been able to identify any specific risk factors.

The EMA’s Cooke said that no unusual blood clot cases connected to the J&J vaccine had been reported in Europe and that the agency will require further studies from the company as its vaccine is rolled out.

Last week, Johnson & Johnson advised European governments to store their doses until the EU drug regulator issued guidance on their use. Widespread use of the shot in Europe has not yet started.

The delay was a further blow to vaccination efforts in the EU, which have been plagued by supply shortages, logistical problems and the persistent concerns over clots.

Last week, South Africa suspended use of the J&J vaccine in the wake of the U.S. pause, and countries including Italy, Romania, the Netherlands, Denmark and Croatia put their doses into storage. But other countries, including Poland, France and Hungary, said they would move forward with their J&J immunization plans.

The blood clots linked to the J&J vaccine are occurring in unusual parts of the body, such as veins that drain blood from the brain. These patients also have abnormally low levels of blood platelets, a condition normally linked to bleeding, not clotting.

In its statement, the EMA said the cases it reviewed in recipients of the J&J shot were very similar to those seen in people who had gotten the AstraZeneca vaccine.

With the AstraZeneca vaccine, scientists in Norway and Germany have suggested that some people are experiencing an abnormal immune system response in which they form antibodies that attack their own platelets.

It’s not yet clear if there might be a similar mechanism with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But both the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, as well as a Russian one and from China, are made with the same technology.

They all train the immune system to recognize the spike protein that coats the coronavirus. To do that, they use a cold virus, called an adenovirus, to carry the spike gene into the body.

“Suspicion is rising that these rare cases may be triggered by the adenovirus component of the AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines,” said Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh.

The EMA said last month that the risk of rare clots associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine is lower than the blood clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills.

The EU ordered 200 million doses of the J& vaccine for 2021. EU officials had hoped the one-shot vaccine could be used to boost the continent’s lagging vaccination rates and also protect hard-to-reach groups such as migrant workers and the homeless.

Johnson & Johnson also has a deal to supply up to 500 million doses to the U.N.-backed COVAX program, which is trying to get vaccines to billions of the world’s poor.

Any concerns about the J&J vaccine would be another unwelcome complication for COVAX. COVAX’s biggest supplier, the Serum Institute of India, announced recently it would delay shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine for several months because of a surge of cases in India.