Prosecutors and the defense delivered their closing arguments Monday in the murder trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, leaving the jury to decide whether George Floyd’s death was caused by Chauvin’s use of force or a perfect storm of health problems, drug use and a turbulent encounter with police.
Late Monday afternoon, the jury began deliberating whether Chauvin is guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. It’s unknown exactly when the jury will reach a verdict, but the decision to convict must be unanimous among the 12 jurors.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill began Monday’s proceedings by instructing jurors on how to approach what is likely to be at least several hours, potentially several days, of deliberations. He walked them through the charges Chauvin is facing and told them they must consider all the evidence they’ve seen and heard in the trial.
“The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s use of force was not authorized by law,” Cahill told the jury. “You are the sole judges of whether [the] witnesses [are] to be believed and of the weight to be given [to a witness’s] testimony.”
Chauvin is accused of murdering Floyd by keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck — depriving Floyd of oxygen — during an arrest on May 25, 2020. Over the course of the 14-day trial, jurors heard from more than 40 witnesses from both the state and Chauvin’s defense team, and viewed video footage from the incident, including that filmed by police body cameras.
Prosecuting attorney Steve Schleicher delivered the closing argument for the state, during which he emphasized the length of time — nine minutes and 29 seconds — that Chauvin restrained Floyd with his knee on Floyd’s neck. The message mirrored the state’s opening statement three weeks ago.
“On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died facedown on the pavement,” Schleicher said. “Right on 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis. Nine minutes and 29 seconds. During this time George Floyd struggled, desperate to breathe. To make enough room in his chest to breathe. But the force was too much."
Schleicher concluded by telling jurors that nothing they heard in court changed what they had seen in the nine-minute video of Floyd's death that was filmed by a bystander and shown in court.
"This case is exactly what you thought when you saw that video," Schleicher said. "It is exactly that. You can believe your eyes."
"It's what you felt in your gut," he continued. "It's what you now know in your heart. This wasn't policing. This was murder. The defendant is guilty of all three counts. All of them, and there is no excuse."
Defense attorney Eric Nelson spent almost three hours Monday explaining why Chauvin behaved as “reasonably” as he could in a “dynamic and fluid” situation. Like the prosecution, he reiterated aspects of his opening statement and attempted to put jurors in Chauvin’s shoes. He used body camera footage to show that Floyd was actively resisting the officers’ attempts to put him in their police vehicle before they pinned him to the ground.
“So what does Chauvin see?” Nelson said. “He sees Officer [J. Alexander] Kueng and Officer [Thomas] Lane struggling with Mr. Floyd, attempting to put him into the car. A reasonable police officer is observing this with his eyes and his ears and assessing what he sees pursuant to policy. And what he sees at a minimum is active resistance. Mr. Floyd's not just simply getting in the backseat of the car.”
Nelson also highlighted Floyd’s drug use and underlying heart issues — specifically hypertension and an enlarged heart — which were listed as “significant” conditions that may have contributed to his death, according to the autopsy from the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office.
Nelson emphasized that Chauvin's defense does not have to prove his innocence. The state, he said, has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s guilty of murdering Floyd.
“Read the instructions in their entirety,” Nelson said. “Start from a point of presumption of innocence and see how far the state can get. I submit to you that the state has failed to meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In his rebuttal, Jerry Blackwell, a member of the prosecution team, also told the jury to believe what they saw in the video.
"You were told that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big,” Blackwell said. “The reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin's heart is too small."
Dylan Stableford contributed to this report.
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