Sitting at tables six feet apart in a hotel conference room, 12 jurors scribbled letters on slips of paper to indicate how they were leaning on a murder charge against Derek Chauvin , the former Minneapolis policeman on trial for killing George Floyd.
When the foreman of the jury counted the votes that morning, one of the jurors recalled, there were 11 papers with a “G” written on them – guilty. One paper said “U” for uncertainty.
The seven women and five men spent the next few hours delving into the evidence in one of the most closely watched trials in a generation, according to Brandon Mitchell, who was the only juror to publicly describe the proceedings last week. near Minneapolis. Mr Mitchell said jurors watched graphic videos of Mr Floyd’s death, discussed the testimony of numerous witnesses and experts and created their own timeline using markers and a whiteboard. By lunchtime, said Mitchell, the unsure juror, a white woman, had made up his mind: Mr. Chauvin was guilty of all charges.
Mr. Mitchell, 31, a Minneapolis High School basketball coach, described the deliberations in an interview Thursday, highlighting what happened in the jury room before jurors convicted Mr. Chauvin for two counts of murder and manslaughter.
Mr. Mitchell said he was excited when he was chosen for the jury and happy to see that the jury was diverse; there were four black jurors, including Mr. Mitchell, as well as six white jurors and two multiracial jurors. They were between 20 and 60 years old.
“The pressure, I was ready to take it,” Mitchell said. “Regardless of how the verdict was reached – guilty or not guilty – it was important for me as a black man to be in the room.
He said he expected, before the trial, to have a hard time making the right decision in the case, but after three weeks of testifying he found the evidence overwhelming.
“I had no doubts in my mind,” Mr. Mitchell said of his decision regarding Mr. Chauvin’s guilt. Jurors discussed the case for about seven hours over two days before delivering a verdict on the afternoon of April 20, Mitchell said. They spent much of the first evening of deliberations getting to know each other rather than talking about the case, he said.
Mr. Chauvin, the white officer who was filmed kneeling on the neck of Mr. Floyd, a black security guard, for more than nine minutes last May, is expected to be sentenced in June and could face decades of jail.
Immediately after final trial arguments on April 19, jurors met in a hotel conference room where they were sequestered and handed over their phones for deliberation, Mitchell said. They voted on whether to keep their masks on during deliberations (they unanimously chose to remove them), and quickly moved on to discussing the evidence and the law.
They initially considered second-degree manslaughter, the less serious of the charges Mr. Chauvin faced, and the juror who later expressed uncertainty over the murder said she did not. was unsure of the manslaughter charge, Mitchell said. Sitting at individual tables set in a U-shape, jurors took turns describing their thoughts. Jurors decided to wait until the second day of deliberations to discuss the murder charges, but dinner didn’t arrive for several hours, so they had small conversations instead, discussing their work and their children. .
At 6:45 a.m. the next morning, MPs knocked on every door of their hotel to wake them up for breakfast and a second day of deliberations, Mitchell said.
While jurors reviewed the murder charges, Mr Mitchell said, they focused at one point on the exact cause of Mr Floyd’s death. Many jurors have said they believe prosecutors’ version of what happened – that Mr Chauvin’s knee caused Mr Floyd’s death – but at least one juror who supported a conviction said that she couldn’t be sure that Mr. Chauvin’s knee was the cause. . Yet, Mr. Mitchell recalls, the juror said she believed the former officer was nonetheless responsible because he continued to pin Mr. Floyd even after he passed out and had failed. never provided medical attention.
After several hours of discussing a third degree murder charge, all of the jurors said they were in favor of a conviction, Mr Mitchell said, and after another half hour they had also moved on. second degree murder conviction agreement.
Jurors decided to wait until after lunch to fill out the forms that would make their decision official, Mitchell said.
“We didn’t want to rush,” he said. “We took a break to soak up and say, ‘This is what we’re about to do.'”
Shortly before 2 p.m., they alerted MPs that they had reached a verdict and were transported from the hotel to the courtroom, where Judge Peter A. Cahill read the verdict.
Mr Mitchell said that for many jurors, including himself, the most powerful testimony came from Dr Martin J. Tobin, a lung expert who indicated that what he said was the exact moment when Mr. Floyd took his last breath.
“He just got 100% of our attention,” Mr. Mitchell said of Dr. Tobin, who testified for the prosecution. “I don’t know if there is another witness who captured us like this.”
Mr Mitchell said he found the defense team’s record weak, lacking revealing testimony that could poke holes in the prosecution’s case.
“I was waiting for a moment that was going to be decisive like ‘Wow!’ – a ‘Boom! Ah! moment – and it just never happened, ”Mitchell said. “Nothing ever hit. It was a little deflating. This made it easy.
Judge Cahill has said the identity of the jurors will remain a secret until at least October, although they are free to speak publicly if they wish. One of the two substitute jurors, who attended the trial but was excused before deliberations began, spoke publicly, saying she never doubted Mr. Chauvin’s guilt.
Throughout the trial, jurors referred to each other only by their juror number – Mr. Mitchell was No.52 – until they began deliberations and released their names. Mr Mitchell said he and the other jurors had made tentative plans to meet for drinks in the summer or fall, when the case was no longer attracting so much attention.
Mr Mitchell said that in the weeks following Mr Floyd’s death, he was determined not to watch the video of Mr Chauvin kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck, but saw part of it when she started playing automatically on a social media feed. .
As protests engulfed Minneapolis after Mr Floyd’s death, Mr Mitchell, who lived downtown, said he frequently discussed the murder with high school students on teams he trained to help them to express the anger and sadness they felt. He said he believed the protests to be justified and necessary, and that he hoped they would lead to change.
“I just want to see the police be more compassionate towards black men, instead of moving with such aggression,” he said.
Kitty bennett contributed to the research.