Keith Ellison
© Reuters / Eric Miller
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has drawn fierce backlash after saying he "felt a little bad" for former cop Derek Chauvin as the guilty verdicts in the George Floyd murder trial were delivered.

Ellison, the lead prosecutor on the case, called for further police reforms following the trial, but said in a '60 minutes' interview that aired on CBS Sunday night that he experienced a range of emotions after the conviction was secured. He said he felt a mix of "gratitude," "humility," a "sense of satisfaction," as well as sympathy for the defendant.

"I spent 16 years as a criminal defense lawyer, so I will admit I felt a little bad for the defendant. I think he deserved to be convicted, but he's a human being," Ellison said, adding that he was not justifying Chauvin's actions in any way.

"I'm not in any way wavering from my responsibility. But I hope we never forget that people who are defendants in our criminal justice system, that they are human beings," he added.

Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after a three-week-long trial. The ex-cop faces up to 40 years in prison, with a minimum of twelve-and-a-half years to be served. His sentencing was set for June 16.

Asked his opinion on the appropriate quantum of punishment, Ellison - who noted that the state "never wanted revenge against Chauvin... just accountability" - said he did not want a heavy sentence meted out to Chauvin for the sake of sending a message.

Comment: A lot of people simply wanted revenge. And they still want it, and more of it.

"I think it is important for the court to not go light or heavy. I don't know if it's right for a judge to send a message through a sentence because the sentence should be tailored to the offense, tailored to the circumstances of the case," he said.

As to whether Floyd's death was a 'hate crime' as many have portrayed it, Ellison said he "wouldn't call it that" because there must be "an explicit motive and bias." In Chauvin's case, there is no evidence to suggest he "factored in George Floyd's race as he did what he did."

"If we'd had a witness that told us that Derek Chauvin made a racial reference, we might have charged him with a hate crime," said Ellison, adding that the only charges brought were ones for which they had "evidence that we could put in front of a jury to prove."

Ellison faced a barrage of criticism on social media for "humanizing" Chauvin, with many users telling him to go "watch the video again." The disturbing footage of Floyd's arrest was crucial to the outcome of the case.

One person tweeted their surprise at hearing Ellison express sympathetic statements toward Chauvin, arguing "no human would have done what he did."

"Wake up," another person said, asking how it was possible to feel bad for a "killer cop," and claiming police "don't care about black lives."

Ellison was even accused of having a "bromance" with Chauvin by a user who said he should be primaried out of the attorney general's office at the next election.

Not everyone piled on the prosecutor, however. Some were thankful to Ellison for "allowing his humanity to show."

"That is why Minnesota hasn't executed anyone since 1906. It's time for the rest of the country to recognize the difference between accountability and revenge," the equality-focused Pete Project non-profit tweeted, adding a hashtag calling for the abolition of the death penalty.