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Derek Chauvin trial: Jury begins verdict deliberations as state and defence finish their closing arguments

Graig Graziosi
·7-min read
In this image from video, prosecutor Steve Schleicher gives closing arguments as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Monday, April 19, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd.  (Court TV via AP, Pool) (AP)
In this image from video, prosecutor Steve Schleicher gives closing arguments as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Monday, April 19, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool) (AP)

Closing arguments were made on Monday in the Derek Chauvin trial, with both the state and the defence concluding their arguments.

State prosecutor Steve Schleicher spent nearly two hours summarising the state's case against Mr Chauvin, who has been accused of murdering George Floyd during an arrest last May.

Mr Chauvin has been charged with second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter.

During his closing arguments, Mr Schleicher pointed to Mr Floyd's family and friends, highlighting their close relationships, before moving on to recount the graphic footage of the man's death.

He concluded that based on the evidence, Mr Floyd's death was “not an accident”.

“On May 25, 2020 George Floyd died face down on the pavement,” he told jurors. “Nine minutes and 29 seconds, nine minutes and 29 seconds. During this time, George Floyd struggled, desperate to breathe, to make enough room in his chest to breathe.”

He emphasised that it was Mr Chauvin, and no other contributing circumstances, that led to Mr Floyd's death.

“The force was too much. He was trapped with the unyielding pavement underneath him, as unyielding as the men who held him down, pushing him, a knee to the neck, a knee to the back, twisting his fingers, holding his legs for nine minutes and 29 seconds, the defendant on him,” Mr Schleicher said.

He said that Mr Floyd was not a threat, and that his death was not justified based on the circumstances of his arrest.

“George Floyd was not a threat to anyone. He wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. He wasn’t trying to do anything to anyone. Facing George Floyd that day did not require one ounce of courage, and none was shown,” he said.

Elsewhere in his defence, Mr Schleicher tried to divorce the idea of convicting Mr Chauvin as a larger condemnation of police officers in the minds of the jurors.

He said the prosecution was “pro-police”, and claimed that the Minneapolis police were not on trial.

"Policing is a noble profession. This is not a prosecution of the police this is a prosecution of the defendant ... There is nothing worse for good police than bad police that don't follow the rules," Mr Schleicher said.

He claimed that Mr Chauvin “abandoned his values” and did not act in accordance with police procedures.

After Mr Schleicher finished his statements, Mr Chauvin's defense attorney Eric Nelson began his closing arguments.

Mr Nelson exhorted the jurors to look beyond the nine minutes and 29 seconds that Mr Chauvin spent kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck and examine the case in a holistic way, considering all of the context surrounding the arrest.

He spent much of his time repeating the phrase “reasonable officer” as he attempted to build an image of Mr Chauvin as an officer making reasonable decisions based on the specifics of the arrest.

Throughout his opening statements, Mr Nelson was focused on arguing that the jurors needed to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Chauvin was guilty in order to hand down a conviction.

As he continued, he tried to poke holes in various points the defence made.

At one point, Mr Nelson suggested that the crowd of bystanders watching the arrest and yelling at police prevented them from administering CPR to Mr Floyd at the scene of the arrest. He claimed that first responders were told to stop CPR if the scene is hostile, and argued that police are trained to be cautious around crowds due to their unpredictable nature.

Later, he suggested Mr Chauvin could not have intended to kill Mr Floyd for a number of reasons, including the fact that he was aware he was being recorded both by bystanders and by nearby police surveillance and body cameras. He also said if Mr Chauvin intended to use inappropriate force to Mr Floyd, he could have taken other actions against the man, but did not.

He also dismissed the findings of medical expert witnesses who testified that Mr Floyd's heart conditions and that evidence of fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system were inconsequential to his death.

Mr Nelson claimed that those drugs could restrict blood blow between Mr Floyd's heart and his brain, and said that the influence of the drugs paired with Mr Floyd's existing heart conditions and an adrenaline spike caused by the arrest cannot be dismissed as contributing factors in his death.

The defence attorney's closing arguments lasted more than two hours, and was interrupted shortly after 1500 EST [1900 GMT] when the judge called for a half-hour recess.

“I would submit to you that it is nonsense to suggest that none of these other factors had any role. That is unreasonable,” Mr Nelson said.

He concluded by saying the state failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Chauvin murdered Mr Floyd, and called on jurors to find his client not guilty on all counts.

After Mr Nelson ended his statements, the state was given a final chance to rebut the defence's arguments.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell began his rebuttal by telling the jurors to rely on the “46th witness” – their “common sense” – and to rely on what they could see when considering the guilt of Mr Chauvin.

He then went on to try to counter the arguments made by Mr Nelson that Mr Floyd's health factors – like his high blood pressure and history with drugs – played a significant role in his death.

Mr Blackwell pointed out that Mr Floyd lived with his conditions every day without issue until he encountered Mr Chauvin, suggesting that it was the officer, and not the health issues, that ultimately led to the man's death.

Mr Blackwell then went on to discuss the drugs that were found in Mr Floyd's system, highlighting that there were not substantial amounts of illicit substances found in his blood, and dismissed the claim that he took a pill while in the police car, but did acknowledge that a pill was found in the car.

The prosecutor also claimed there was zero evidence Mr Floyd had a fatal arrhythmia prior to Mr Chauvin kneeling on his neck. He pointed out that “everyone dies” of a fatal arrhythmia, because it ultimately means that someone stops breathing and their heart stops beating.

Mr Blackwell then went on to discuss intent, arguing that the state did not have to prove that Mr Chauvin intended to exercise an unlawful use of force on Mr Floyd, but instead that he intended to take the action that led to Mr Floyd's death.

He said that Mr Chauvin deciding to press his knee on Mr Floyd's neck and his refusal to get up after Mr Floyd passed out suggests he intended to press his knee against the man's neck, and is sufficient evidence for the jury to convict.

“You were told George Floyd died because his heart was too big but he died because Derek Chauvin’s heart was too small,” prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said to conclude his rebuttal.

The jury was then given final instructions from judge Peter Cahill, who warned them about biases they might carry into the deliberation chambers.

Jurors were then sequestered and began their deliberations on the case. The verdict will be read after they have finished their discussions, where all 12 jurors will need to be in agreement to reach any sort of guilty verdict.

After arguments concluded, Mr Nelson made a last-ditch attempt to stall the decision. He argued the massive publicity around the case, as well as recent comments from congresswoman Maxine Waters urging protesters “stay on the street” and “get more confrontational”, would bias a final result.

However, judge Cahill ultimately rejected this argument, even though he said he found commentary from elected officials on ongoing trials to be “abhorrent”.

“I grant you congresswoman Waters may have handed you grounds for appeal and the turning over of this trial,” Mr Cahill said, but added, “I don’t think it’s given additional material with which to prejudice the jury. A congresswoman’s opinion really doesn’t mean much.”

The city of Minneapolis remains on high alert, following more than a week of nightly protests after Kimberly Potter, a white officer in the suburb of Brooklyn Center, shot and killed an unarmed Black man, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, during a traffic stop on 11 April, just 10 miles from the courthouse where Mr Chauvin’s case was concluding.

On Monday, Minnesota governor Tim Walz declared a state of emergency, allowing officers from out of state to assist the already thousands of Minnesota National Guard troops deployed throughout the city in anticipation of civil unrest surrounding the verdict.