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(NEW YORK) — The fate of Derek Chauvin was placed in the hands of a Minnesota jury on Monday after the panel heard about five hours of closing arguments from prosecutors and the former police officer’s defense attorney who offered radically different views on what killed George Floyd during a May 2020 arrest.
The jury, which is being sequestered in a hotel throughout its deliberations, got the case just before 4 p.m. CT after the attorneys’ summations on the evidence in the case, including the testimonies from 45 witnesses and multiple videos from bystanders, surveillance cameras and police body cameras.
While prosecutor Steve Schleicher told the panel the state had proven beyond reasonable doubt that Chauvin is guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter, defense attorney Eric Nelson told the jurors the state fell short of meeting its burden and therefore they should find Chauvin not guilty on all of the charges.
Prior to handing over the case to the jury, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill dismissed two alternate members of the panel — Juror 96, a white woman in her 50s who works in customer service and is interested in homeless issues, and Juror 118, a white twentysomething social worker.
Cahill also issued some final advice and legal instructions to the jury, saying, “During your deliberations, you must not let bias, prejudice, passion, sympathy, or public opinion influence your decision.”
“Now, members of the jury, the case is in your hands as judges of the facts,” Cahill said. “I’m certain that you realize this case is important, serious, and, therefore, deserves your careful consideration.”
Defense calls for mistrial
Once the 12 jurors were sent to deliberate, Nelson asked Cahill to declare a mistrial, arguing that prosecutor Jerry Blackwell, who gave the rebuttal for the state, belittled the defense in front of the jury by accusing it of telling “Halloween stories,” “shading” the truth, and misrepresenting and fabricating facts.
Nelson also complained about inflammatory public comments made over the weekend by a member of Congress.
During a Black Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, calling for justice in the police-involved fatal shooting there of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, Rep. Maxine Water, D-Calif., voiced her views of what the verdict in the Chauvin trial should be.
“I hope we get a verdict that says guilty, guilty, guilty,” Water’s said. “And if we don’t, we cannot go away. We’ve got to stay on the street. We get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”
Nelson told Cahill that Water’s statement can be “reasonably interpreted to be threats against the sanctity of the jury process.”
“And now that we have U.S. representatives, threatening acts of violence in relation to this specific case is mind-boggling,” Nelson told Cahill.
Cahill responded that Waters “may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trail being overturned.”
The judge agreed that politicians like Waters should be “respectful” of the jury process and said “failing to do so I think is abhorrent.”
He denied the motion for a mistrial, adding, “a congresswoman’s opinion really doesn’t matter a whole lot.”
9 minutes, 29 seconds
The prosecution was called on first to give a closing argument. Schleicher began his summation by talking about George Perry Floyd Jr., who he said was looked up to by his siblings and “was surrounded by people who he cared about and who cared about him throughout his life, throughout his childhood in that house, through his adolescence, into his adulthood.
Schleicher quickly moved to May 25, 2020, the day Floyd fell unconscious, lost a pulse and died while handcuffed and being held in the prone position by three officers, including Chauvin pressing his knee into the back of his neck.
“Nine minutes and 29 seconds,” Schleicher said. “During this time, George Floyd struggled, desperate to breathe, to make enough room in his chest to breathe. But the force was too much. He was trapped. He was trapped with the unyielding pavement underneath him, as unyielding as the man who held him down, pushing him, a knee to the neck, a knee to the back, twisting his fingers, holding his legs for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, the defendants’ weight on him.”
He reminded the jury of Floyd’s final words, noting Floyd called Chauvin referred to as “Mr. officer.”
“‘Please, I can’t breathe,'” Schleicher told the jurors of what Floyd repeated 27 times in 4 minutes and 45 seconds until he could no longer speak.
He reminded jurors that the use of deadly force was applied to Floyd, who was accused of using a phony $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a Cub Foods store, a misdemeanor that multiple law enforcement officers testified did not merit an arrest.
“No courage was required. All that was required was a little compassion,” Schleicher said. “And none was shown on that day.”
Schleicher played clips from a now-famous bystander video taken by a then-17-year-old witness Darnella Frazier, showing Chauvin pressing his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck as he begged for his life, complained of pain and cried out “momma!”
He told the jurors that they can rely on what they saw in the video, and countless others they viewed during the trial.
“Believe your eyes that unreasonable force, pinning him to the ground, that’s what killed him,” Schleicher said. “This was a homicide.”
Chauvin removes mask
Chauvin sat at the defense table with his mask off during Nelson’s roughly three-hour closing statement.
“So throughout the course of this trial, the state has focused your attention on 9 minutes and 29 seconds. The proper analysis is to take those 9 minutes and 29 seconds and put it into the context of the totality of the circumstances that a reasonable police officer would know,” Nelson said. “And the proper analysis starts with: what did the officers, or what would a reasonable officer, know at the time of dispatch?”
He asked the jury to closely examine what occurred in the 16 minutes and 59 seconds before Chauvin and two other officers placed a resisting Floyd in a prone position on the pavement.
Nelson said that when Chavin arrived on the scene, he knew through a 911 dispatcher that Floyd was over 6 feet tall, possibly on drugs, and that the officers dealing with him had reported the situation was under control before suddenly requesting an urgent need for backup.
He said that when Chauvin arrived at the scene, the first thing he saw with officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng struggling with Floyd, who was refusing to get into the rear of a squad car and complaining that he was claustrophobic.
“So, literally, this demonstrates to you a couple of things: how quickly a situation can change from second to second, minute to minute,” Nelson said.
He said Chauvin was following his police training and acting as a reasonable officer would given the same set of circumstances when he and the other officers put Floyd on the ground. He said that because Floyd was actively resisting, Chauvin could have elevated the force used on Floyd, including punching or kicking him, to bring him under control.
“A reasonable police officer would understand this situation, that Mr. Floyd was able to overcome the efforts of three police officers while handcuffed. With his legs and his body strength,” Nelson said
He said Chauvin and his colleagues were also confronted by an angry crowd, screaming at the officers to get off of Floyd and video recording the confrontation with their cell phones.
Nelson said the Minnesota Police Department training includes tactics on how to deal with a crowd and specifically states to “never underestimate a crowd.”
Nelson also spent a lot of time arguing that Floyd’s clogged arteries and the drugs in his system were the cause of his death, more so than Chauvin’s knee. He ridiculed the prosecution’s expert medical witnesses who said the drugs and Floyd’s heart condition had nothing to do with his death, calling their opinions “preposterous.”
“They just want you to ignore significant medical issues that presented to Mr. Floyd. And the failure of the state’s experts to acknowledge any possibility, any possibility at all that any of these other factors in any way contributed to Mr. Floyd’s death defies medical science and it defies common sense and reason,” Nelson said.
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