Derek Chauvin case goes to the jury as the nation braces for the verdict
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.
Chauvin defense attorney Eric Nelson pushed back in his closing remarks, arguing that Floyd died from the drugs in his system and underlying heart disease.
“There is absolutely no evidence,” Nelson argued, that Chauvin purposely used unlawful force on Floyd.
He concluded that the jury must acquit Chauvin, as the prosecution failed to prove the charges presented beyond a reasonable doubt.
Chauvin faces three criminal counts — second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The jury will be sequestered while it works to come to a verdict, a process that could take days. Chauvin could be found guilty of all three charges, as prosecutors urge, or one or two of the charges. He also could be found not guilty on all charges, a common outcome in police misconduct cases but one that in this case would almost certainly lead to unrest across the country.
“The defendant is guilty of second-degree murder, he's guilty of third-degree murder, he's guilty of second-degree manslaughter, all of them, because this was not a justified use of force. You cannot justify this use of force. It's impossible,” Schleicher told the jury on Monday.
Before arguments were given, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill read to the jury an explanation of Chauvin's charges.
For the second-degree murder charge to stick, the jury must find that Chauvin killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck. The prosecution doesn’t need to prove that Chauvin had intent to kill Floyd but that he committed felony assault — defined as the intentional use of unlawful force that results in bodily harm.
With the lesser murder charge, the jury would need to conclude that Chauvin acted without the intent to kill Floyd but acted in a “eminently dangerous” way “evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.”
The manslaughter charge requires the prosecution to prove only that Chauvin “consciously” acted in a manner that had the chance of causing “death or great bodily harm” to Floyd.
The final day of arguments again featured video from Floyd’s killing on May 25, 2020, that led to nationwide protests against police misconduct and for racial justice last summer.
In the video, Floyd can be heard pleading with Chauvin that he couldn’t breathe as the former police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes in graphic bystander footage. Chauvin remained on Floyd even after he became unresponsive, relenting only after paramedics arrived on the scene. Floyd, 46, was pronounced dead shortly after at Hennepin County Medical Center.
“This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video. It is exactly that. You can believe your eyes,” Schleicher said on Monday.
The two sides in their closing arguments again focused on the cause of Floyd’s death, with prosecutors saying it was Chauvin’s knee that killed him and the defense arguing that other factors were at play.
Schleicher noted the testimony from Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker, who stated on his autopsy report that Floyd died of “cardiopulmonary arrest [the stopping of both the heart and lungs] complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”
Baker “ruled the death a homicide, death at the hands of another,” Schleicher said. “What the defendant did to George Floyd killed him.”
Chauvin’s defense has argued that trace amounts of fentanyl and methamphetamine found in Floyd’s system contributed to his death and that the circumstances of an arrest in which a crowd had gathered and was angry with how Floyd was being treated also had to be considered.
“In this case, the totality of the circumstances that were known to a reasonable police officer in the precise moment the force was used demonstrates that this was an authorized use of force, as unattractive as it may be,” Nelson told the jury.
The prosecution noted that while Baker described the traces of the two drugs as contributing factors in Floyd’s death, he said that neither was a direct cause of Floyd’s death.
Multiple medical professionals called by the prosecution said that Chauvin died from low levels of oxygen, or asphyxia.
Numerous Minneapolis police officers also testified for the prosecution, saying that Chauvin’s use of force was not consistent with department training. This included Chief Medaria Arradondo, who vehemently condemned Chauvin’s conduct.
Chauvin and the three other officers who were on the scene were fired from the force the day after Floyd’s death.
Minneapolis has been bracing for the verdict in the high-profile case for weeks. The metropolitan area was inflamed further last weekend when Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer during a traffic stop in the suburb of Brooklyn Center, Minn., roughly 10 miles from where Chauvin is standing trial.
The officer in question, Kim Potter, has since resigned and been charged with second-degree manslaughter. The suburb’s police department has said that the fatal shooting was accidental and that Potter meant to discharge her Taser instead of her firearm.
Peter Cahill criticized Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) for her comments over the weekend regarding the trial of Derek Chauvin.
"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 and our function," Cahill said after the jury had been sequestered to begin deliberations on Monday.
"If they want to give their opinions, they should do so ... in a manner that is consistent with their oath to the Constitution," Cahill continued.
The judge’s comments came after Chauvin defense attorney Eric Nelson argued that Waters’s comments could have prejudiced the jury and were grounds for a mistrial.
“We have U.S. representatives threatening acts of violence in relation to this specific case. It's mind-boggling,” Nelson said to Cahill.
Cahill denied Nelson's motion for a mistrial but said that Waters’s weekend remarks could give the defense “something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.”
On Saturday, the longtime congresswoman visited Brooklyn Center, Minn., the Minneapolis suburb where Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer during a traffic stop the previous weekend.
"We've got to stay on the street, and we've got to get more active. We've got to get more confrontational. We've got to make sure that they know that we mean business," Waters told protestors at a demonstration there.
Protests over Wright’s death have led to the Minnesota National Guard being mobilized.
She also said that if Chauvin was found not guilty, she would "fight with all of the people who stand for justice," adding, "We’ve got to get justice in this country, and we cannot allow these killings to continue."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pounced on the remarks, describing them as “dangerous.”
"Maxine Waters is inciting violence in Minneapolis — just as she has incited it in the past," McCarthy tweeted late Sunday evening. "If Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] doesn’t act against this dangerous rhetoric, I will bring action this week."
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said on Sunday that she was planning to introduce a resolution this week in the House to expel Waters from the lower chamber for her "continual incitement of violence."
"This is who they are, and this is how they act," Waters said Monday in response to the GOP attacks. "I’m not going to be bullied by them."
Veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz warned that former President Trump’s repeated assertions that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against him could hurt Republican efforts to take back the House in 2022. Luntz noted in an interview on the New York Times podcast “Sway” released Thursday that “more than two-thirds of Republicans believe that the election was stolen,” warning that a widespread and unproven belief that there was rampant fraud last November could turn Republicans off from voting in the midterm elections.
Liz Cheney, the third-most-powerful House Republican, has warned that her party is “at a turning point” as it prepares to try to remove her from leadership for rejecting Donald Trump’s false claims about the election. Writing in a defiant op-ed, published by the Washington Post on Wednesday, the Wyoming Republican told her party that standing with Trump meant undermining the rule of law and risking continued violence. “Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work – confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law."
Rep. Liz Cheney on Monday escalated her feud with former President Donald Trump and his supporters in Congress, issuing a less-than-subtle swipe at the former president’s latest attempt to claim the 2020 election was stolen from him.
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.