MINNEAPOLIS – Both sides in one of the nation’s most closely watched police brutality trials returned to graphic video of George Floyd’s final moments on Monday for the last time, with the prosecution asking jurors to “believe your eyes” and the defense warning them not to do so. be “misled” by a freeze frame view.
After 14 days of testimony from expert police officers, doctors, members of the Minneapolis Police Department and passers-by, lawyers presented their final submissions, urging jurors to use common sense as the case was in their hands .
The prosecution focused on the nine minutes and 29 seconds during which Derek Chauvin, the white policeman accused of murder, kept his knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd, a handcuffed black man, on a street in Minneapolis the last Memorial Day.
“This case is exactly what you thought when you first saw it, when you saw this video,” said Steve Schleicher, the prosecutor who delivered the final argument. “That’s what you felt in your gut. This is what you now know in your heart.
In a lengthy rebuttal, the defense insisted on the 17 minutes leading up to that date – suggesting that Mr. Floyd had taken illegal drugs and actively resisted when several officers attempted to get him into a patrol car. Mr. Chauvin’s attorney, Eric J. Nelson, has repeatedly asked jurors to consider “all of the circumstances.”
“Don’t be fooled by a single still image,” Nelson told the jury, responding to the moment-to-moment analyzes of the video evidence presented by the prosecution. “Put the evidence in context.”
The closing arguments took place on the 18th floor of a government building surrounded by temporary fences and military sentries. High security couldn’t prevent the tremors from last week’s fatal police shooting on Daunte Wright just 10 miles away.
Governor Tim Walz called for calm on Monday as the jury began its deliberations. He declared a “peacetime emergency” to allow police from neighboring states to be called in if necessary, joining more than 3,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen who have been deployed to assist law enforcement local.
“Local and state resources have been fully deployed, but they are insufficient to deal with the threat,” Walz said in a decree.
Schools will switch to distance learning later this week, and businesses have been closed due to the risk of unrest following a verdict.
The fatal shooting of Mr. Wright, a 20-year-old black man, in a suburb called Brooklyn Center has cast a shadow over the proceedings.
After the jury left to begin deliberating, Mr Nelson requested that the trial be set aside, saying the comments by Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat of California, amounted to threats and intimidation. During her visit to the Brooklyn Center, Ms. Waters told protesters they should “stay on the streets” and “confront more” if Mr. Chauvin is acquitted.
Judge Peter A. Cahill dismissed the request, but said, “I will tell you that Congressman Waters may have handed you something on appeal that could result in this whole trial being overturned.”
Judge Cahill was a key aide to Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic senator, when she was a county attorney, and was first appointed to the bench by Republican governor Tim Pawlenty. The judge has been re-elected several times in non-partisan races.
The trauma of Mr Floyd’s death, captured on video, has become a clear call for increased police accountability nationwide. At the same time, it was felt deeply and personally in Minneapolis, which still bears the scars of the riots and arson that followed.
In the courtroom on Monday, lawyers appealed to the jury of seven women and five men, who will be held in a hotel for their deliberations.
Mr. Chauvin, 45, who spent 19 years as a Minneapolis police officer, was fired immediately after Mr. Floyd’s death, along with three other officers involved. Mr. Chauvin is charged with second degree murder, punishable by up to 40 years in prison, and lesser charges of third degree murder and second degree manslaughter.
The other three officers are expected to be tried together in August.
In-person participation was strictly limited throughout the trial due to Covid-19, with one spectator seat reserved for each side. On Monday morning, Mr. Floyd’s brother Philonise, who gave moving testimony about his brother earlier in the trial, was in the Floyd family headquarters, later followed by a nephew, and an unidentified woman was in the seat of the Chauvin family.
Mr Schleicher, speaking on behalf of the state, highlighted Mr Floyd’s humanity, saying he complied until he was forced into the team car and that he pleaded for help, calling Mr. Chauvin “Mr. Officer”. But, said Mr. Schleicher, Mr. Officer did not help.
Speaking for less than two hours, Mr Schleicher attempted to tailor his appeal to jurors who had expressed views favorable to the police during the jury selection process. “The accused is not tried for being a police officer – it is not the state against the police,” Mr Schleicher said. “He is not judged for who he was. He is judged for what he has done.
He said many witnesses said Mr. Chauvin violated police training and policy by pinning Mr. Floyd face down and keeping him pinned long after he lost consciousness.
“It wasn’t from the police, it was murder,” Mr. Schleicher said. “The accused is guilty of all three counts. All. And there is no excuse.
Defense attorney Nelson took a very different approach, covering a wide range of grounds in a statement that lasted nearly three hours, in which Mr. Chauvin removed his mask and interrupted the regular note taking that he had maintained throughout the day. trial.
Mr Nelson filled jurors with what he said were discrepancies in the prosecution’s case, hoping to sow reasonable doubt with at least one of the 12.
He argued that there were important questions on at least two key issues: whether Mr. Chauvin’s actions were permitted under the policies of the Minneapolis Police Department and whether Mr. Chauvin caused Mr. Floyd’s death. .
Mr. Nelson highlighted the many factors a “reasonable police officer” must consider, including whether the subject is intoxicated, resisting, and bystanders a threat. To illustrate the appeals for judgment at issue, he said that each of the prosecution’s many use-of-force experts identified a different point in time when Mr. Chauvin’s use of force became unreasonable.
“Officer Chauvin had no intention of using deliberately – he did not deliberately use illegal force,” he said. “These are officers doing their job under a very stressful situation, according to their training, according to the policies of the Minneapolis Police Department. And it is tragic. It’s tragic.
He showed a video clip of when it appears Mr. Floyd took his last breath, saying that at the same time, Mr. Chauvin was pulling his mace in response to onlookers trying to intervene, and was surprised by the approach of an emergency medical technician who arrived at the scene and offered to help.
As Mr Nelson read police policies warning that crowds were unpredictable, prosecutors called onlookers a ‘bunch of humanity’ and said fate had chosen them at random – the same way jurors did. had been selected – to witness what they called an abuse of authority. “
One of the main questions for the jury to decide is whether Mr. Chauvin’s actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Mr. Floyd’s death.
“The fact that other causes contribute to the death does not release the defendant from criminal liability,” Justice Cahill told the jury.
Mr Nelson barely mentioned the defense experts who testified, but tried to exploit the fact that the prosecution called numerous medical experts, saying there were discrepancies between their findings. He said heart disease, high blood pressure and other pre-existing conditions, as well as Mr. Floyd’s use of fentanyl and methamphetamine, greatly contributed to his death.
“It is absurd to suggest that none of these other factors played a role,” he said. “This is not reasonnable.”
In response, Jerry W. Blackwell, speaking on behalf of the state, said Mr. Floyd lived 17,026 days without dying from his drug use or pre-existing conditions, which he portrayed as a field of blue dots. with a yellow arrow pointing to the last one.
He sought to clear up the confusion over the cause of death: “You don’t need a doctorate, you don’t need a doctor to understand how fundamental breathing is in life.”
Mr. Blackwell said that the idea that there were “two sides to every story” was “one of the most dangerous things” in the search for the truth. “If it is a story, it means that there can be many sides to the story and that there can never be truth or reality,” he said, “except that what we’re talking about here is getting to the truth, not just stories. . “
Mr. Blackwell ended with a final attack on one of the defense arguments regarding cause of death, namely that Mr. Floyd had an enlarged heart.
“You were told, for example, that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big,” Mr. Blackwell said. “And the truth is, the reason George Floyd died is because Mr. Chauvin’s heart was too small.
Marie fazio and Andrés R. Martínez contribution to reports.