'Believe your eyes': Jury deliberating after landmark trial

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As the world watches on, the jury has begun its deliberations in the murder case against former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

The jury of six white members and six Black or multiracial members was sent off to begin making its decision after nearly a full day of closing arguments on Monday (local time), in which prosecutors argued Chauvin cruelly squeezed the life out Mr Floyd during an arrest in May last year.

The defence argued the now-fired officer acted reasonably, telling jurors the 46-year-old victim died of an underlying heart condition and illegal drug use.

Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. All three charges require the jury to conclude that Chauvin’s actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Mr Floyd’s death and that his use of force was unreasonable.

A court drawing of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin watching a screen showing video of the scene in which George Floyd was killed.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin depicted watching a screen showing video of the scene in which George Floyd was killed. Source: Reuters

Chauvin knelt on Mr Floyd's neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, much of which was caught on camera sparking outrage and global protests against racial violence and police brutality. 

The most serious charge carries up to 40 years in prison.

However the impending decision by the jurors had a slight shadow cast over it after the judge said inflammatory comments by a Democrat congresswoman could be grounds for an appeal which could see a verdict overturned.

Jurors in Chauvin case told to 'believe your eyes'

In closing arguments, prosecutor Steve Schleicher urged jurors to think about the footage which showed Mr Floyd slowly die while under the knee of Derek Chauvin. 

“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” he said.

"Unreasonable force, pinning him to the ground — that's what killed him. This was a homicide.

"It's exactly what you saw with your eyes. It's exactly what you knew. It's exactly what you felt in your gut. It's what you now know in your heart. This wasn't policing, this was murder."

Fellow prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said bystanders who filmed the incident and called for police to get off Mr Floyd knew it was wrong, including a nine-year-old girl who testified during the trial.

"Even a 9-year-old little girl knows it — get off him," Mr Blackwell said. "That's all you need to know in that case."

The prosecutor said the defence argued George Floyd died because his heart was too big. "The reason George Floyd is dead was because Mr Chauvin's heart was too small," he said.

Chauvin's lawyers say his actions were 'reasonable'

Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson countered by arguing that Chauvin did what any "reasonable" police officer would have done after finding himself in a "dynamic" and "fluid" situation involving a large man struggling with three officers.

As Nelson began speaking, the Chauvin removed his Covid-19 mask in front of the jury for one of the very few times during the trial.

The duelling arguments got underway with some stores boarded up with plywood in downtown Minneapolis, the courthouse ringed with concrete barriers and barbed wire, and National Guard members on patrol as the city now waits on a knife's edge.

High school students from across Minneapolis participated in a statewide walkout.
High school students from across Minneapolis participated in a statewide walkout on April 19, ahead of the verdict. Source: Getty

Judge makes stunning statement about trial being 'overturned'

After closing arguments were done, Judge Peter Cahill rejected a request from the defence team for a mistrial based in part on comments California congresswoman Maxine Waters who told demonstrators to "stay in the streets" and suggested protesters could get more confrontational if there is a not guilty verdict.

Ms Waters has been widely criticised for her inflammatory remarks after she called for a guilty verdict on the most serious charges.

The judge told Chauvin’s lawyer: “Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned".

“I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch,” he said, but added: "A congresswoman's opinion really does't matter a whole lot."

At a Black Lives Matter rally on the weekend to protest the killing of Daunte Wright in Minnesota last week, Ms Waters called for more protests if a guilty verdict was not handed down. 

"I hope we get a verdict that says guilty, guilty, guilty," she said in response to reporters' questions. 

"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."

The trial has been broadcast live by TV networks in the US since the more than 40 witnesses took the stand beginning three weeks ago, though the coverage was sometimes interrupted by fresh episodes of police violence caught on camera.

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