Derek Chauvin trial: Murder case against ex-cop in George Floyd's death goes to jury

WION Web Team
Minneapolis Updated: Apr 20, 2021, 01:27 PM IST

Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin during the arrest of George Floyd Photograph:(AFP)

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The murder case against former officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd went to the jury on Monday in a city on edge against another round of unrest.

Prosecutors and defence attorneys have ended closing arguments Monday in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin after making their cases to jurors in the death case of George Floyd. After several weeks of testimony amid nationwide concerns over potential unrest that could follow once a verdict is reached. 

The jury of six white people and six people who are Black or multiracial began deliberating after nearly a full day of closing arguments in which prosecutors argued that Chauvin squeezed the life out of Floyd last May in a way that even a child knew was wrong.

The defence contended that the now-fired white officer acted reasonably and that the 46-year-old Floyd died of a heart condition and illegal drug use.

After closing arguments were done, Judge Peter Cahill rejected a defence request for a mistrial based in part on comments from California Rep. Maxine Waters that protesters could get more confrontational if there is no guilty verdict.

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

He added: I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and the judicial branch.

Chauvin (45), is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, all of which require the jury to conclude that Chauvin's actions were a substantial causal factor in Floyd's death and that his use of force was unreasonable.

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

Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw, prosecutor Steve Schleicher said in closing arguments, referring to the excruciating bystander video of Floyd pinned down on the pavement with Chauvin's knee on or close to his neck for up to 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as bystanders yelled at the officer to get off.

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 now-fired 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 in Minneapolis, the courthouse ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire, and National Guard members on patrol. Floyd's death last spring set off protests in the city and across the US that sometimes turned violent.

 The city has also been on edge in recent days over the police killing of a 20-year-old Black man in a nearby suburb on April 11.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell had the final word, offering the state's rebuttal argument. The prosecutor, who is Black, said the questions about the use of force and cause of death are so simple that a child can understand it.

A child did understand it, when the 9-year-old girl said, Get off of him,' Blackwell said, referring to a young witness who objected to what she saw. "That's how simple it was. 'Get off of him.' Common sense.

Under the law, police have a certain latitude to use force, and their actions are supposed to be judged according to what a reasonable officer in the same situation would have done.

Nelson noted that officers who first went to the corner store where Floyd allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit USD 20 bill were struggling with Floyd when Chauvin arrived as backup. The attorney also noted that the first two officers on the scene were rookies and that police had been told that Floyd might be on drugs.

A reasonable police officer understands the intensity of the struggle, Nelson said, saying that Chauvin's body-worn camera and his police badge were knocked off his chest.

Nelson also showed the jury pictures of pills found in Floyd's SUV and pill remnants discovered in the squad car. Fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in Floyd's system.

The defence attorney said the failure of the prosecution to acknowledge that medical problems or drugs played a role defies medical science and it defies common sense and reason.

During the prosecution's argument, Schleicher replayed portions of the bystander video and other footage as he dismissed certain defence theories about Floyd's death as nonsense." He said Chauvin killed Floyd by constricting his breathing.

Schleicher rejected the drug overdose argument, as well as the contention that police were distracted by hostile onlookers, that Floyd had superhuman strength from a state of agitation known as excited delirium, and that he suffered possible carbon monoxide poisoning from auto exhaust.

The prosecutor sarcastically referred to the idea that it was heart disease that killed Floyd as an amazing coincidence.

"Is that common sense or is that nonsense? Schleicher asked the jury.

 Blackwell, his fellow prosecutor, likewise rejected the defence theory that Floyd died because of an enlarged heart: The truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is that Mr Chauvin's heart was too small.

Earlier, Schleicher described how Chauvin ignored Floyd's cries and continued to kneel on him well after he stopped breathing and had no pulse. Chauvin was on top of him for 9 minutes and 29 seconds and he had to know, Schleicher said. He had to know.

He said Chauvin heard Floyd but he just didn't listen.

The prosecutor said Floyd was "not a threat to anyone" and was not trying to escape when he struggled with officers but instead was terrified of being put into the tiny backseat of the squad car.

(With inputs from agencies)