5th Amendment: Police officer decides not to testify about George Floyd’s death
Prosecutors and the defense questioned the final witnesses Thursday in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, who exercised his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself before a jury begins deliberating his guilt in the death of George Floyd. Speaking for the first time in the trial, Mr. Chauvin was interviewed by his attorney, Eric Nelson, outside the presence of the jury, saying that it was an understatement that the two had discussed extensively whether he should testify, including a discussion Wednesday evening.
“I will invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege today,” he said.
Mr. Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Over nearly three weeks of trial testimony, prosecutors presented evidence to make their case that he caused Mr. Floyd’s death by kneeling on his neck and back, while he was handcuffed and face down, for more than nine minutes and that the force he used was reckless.
The defense presented experts who argued Mr. Chauvin had behaved reasonably and within professional standards and that Mr. Floyd had died from a fentanyl overdose and a pre-existing heart condition.
Both sides rested their cases before noon on Thursday. Judge Peter Cahill dismissed the jury until 9 a.m. Monday for closing arguments. He told them to prepare a bag for what could be days of deliberations, during which they will be sequestered.
The impending verdict renewed tensions in a city that was rocked by months of protests and violence following Mr. Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020. The anxiety has been heightened by the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright in the suburb of Brooklyn Center, where officials have extended a nightly curfew in an effort to keep protests peaceful.
Minneapolis officials said they began implementing a security plan several days earlier than expected for jury deliberations and the eventual verdict because of Mr. Wright’s shooting. The measures included bolstering the barricades already in place around government and police buildings around the city, and deploying the National Guard and other resources around several areas hard hit by last summer’s unrest.
“I know every single resident in Minneapolis is acutely aware that this moment is of enormous consequence for our city, for our state, for our nation and our world,” Mayor Jacob Frey said.
Thursday marked the end of two days of witness testimony presented by Mr. Nelson, a Twin Cities lawyer taking on the biggest case of his career. Trial experts gave him mixed reviews.
Joe Friedberg, a criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis, said the defense case seemed like it was cut short. He said that if Mr. Nelson had the resources, he should have brought in more doctors with other expertise to back up his most prominent witness, David Fowler, the former chief medical examiner of Maryland.
Dr. Fowler said Mr. Chauvin didn’t put enough pressure on Mr. Floyd to cut off oxygen and cited research disputing the danger of prone restraints, sounding almost as confident as the prosecution medical witnesses who said they had no doubt of the lethality of Mr. Chauvin’s knee-on-neck restraint.
“I thought he did a good job at creating some questions with respect to what could have caused the death of Floyd,” Minnesota defense lawyer Kevin DeVore said of the medical testimony.
The prosecution recalled its star medical expert, Martin Tobin, on Thursday morning to rebut Dr. Fowler’s testimony that carbon monoxide might have been a contributor to Mr. Floyd’s death. Dr. Fowler had said that his exposure to the deadly gas because of his position at the rear of a police car could have raised his carboxyhemoglobin level by 10% to 18%. Carboxyhemoglobin is a blood-protein molecule that has carbon monoxide instead of the normal oxygen bound to it.
Dr. Tobin said that was impossible, citing Mr. Floyd’s oxygen saturation level on the night of his death, which was 98%. Dr. Tobin said that meant Mr. Floyd’s carboxyhemoglobin level could be at most 2%, which would be normal.
Mr. Nelson’s use-of-force expert was less helpful to the defense, according to trial observers.
Barry Brodd, a 29-year law-enforcement veteran, trainer and consultant on police practices, testified that Mr. Chauvin wasn’t using deadly force. During cross-examination, he acknowledged that a knee pressed against Mr. Floyd could be an unjustified use of force and conceded that Mr. Floyd wasn’t talking or resisting after a certain point and lost consciousness.
“There are just aspects of this case that are extremely difficult to defend,” said Brockton Hunter, a Minneapolis-based criminal defense attorney.
Over nearly three weeks in front of the jury, Mr. Nelson has appeared well-prepared, likable and tough when he needs to be, said Joseph Daly, a retired law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, who taught Mr. Nelson trial skills when he was in law school.
“He knows how to design a theory of a case. He knows how to try a case,” he said.
Mr. Nelson had no obligation to offer his own witnesses, with the burden of proof on the prosecution. And jurors aren’t supposed to draw conclusions from Mr. Chauvin’s decision not to testify in his own trial.
Mr. Nelson has a history of his clients testifying in their defense in his most prominent cases.
In 2012, Mr. Nelson represented Amy Senser, the wife of a former Minnesota Vikings player. She was charged in the hit-and-run killing of a man who had run out of gas on the side of the road. Ms. Senser testified that she didn’t know she had hit a person. She was convicted and sentenced to 41 months in prison.
In 2015, Mr. Nelson successfully defended a 20-year-old Wisconsin man who claimed self-defense after stabbing and killing a man during an argument. At the time, Mr. Nelson credited the man’s decision to take the stand in his own defense.
Trial observers say Mr. Chauvin’s absence from the stand may have been a missed opportunity to personalize the defendant, whose face has been obscured by a pandemic face covering. In court on Thursday morning, Mr. Nelson hinted at the fraught discussions around Mr. Chauvin testifying.
“We’ve had this conversation repeatedly,” Mr. Nelson said.
The jury’s guilty verdict on the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd signaled the conclusion of a historic police brutality trial and a key moment for policing and for the battle for racial equality in America. Observers have talked about this case being so significant that it will stand as a watershed between the way law enforcement was held to account in the US before George Floyd was pinned by the neck under Chauvin’s knee, and after.
The jury has found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all the counts he faced over the death of George Floyd. The trial has been one of the most closely watched cases in recent memory, setting off a national reckoning on police violence and systemic racism even before the trial commenced. Chauvin has been found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin, only his eyes visible as the rest of his face was hidden behind a surgical mask, watched as the verdict was returned.
The city of Minneapolis and the nation at large began a tense waiting game Monday after closing arguments were heard in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who’s charged with the murder of George Floyd. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher told the jury that Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes was murder, not policing.
“George Floyd was not a threat to anyone. He wasn't trying to hurt anyone. He wasn't trying to do anything to anyone,” Schleicher said.
Former police officer Kimberly Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter on Wednesday after fatally shooting the 20-year-old Black motorist Daunte Wright, officials said. The white former suburban Minneapolis police officer was arrested earlier in the day in relation to the shooting dead of Wright during a traffic stop on Sunday in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis. The killing of Wright ignited days of unrest and clashes between protesters and police. The charge against Potter was filed on Wednesday, three days after Wright was killed.