After defense attorney Eric Nelson’s closing argument, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell will give a rebuttal, and then the jury will begin deliberating.
MINNEAPOLIS — After 45 witnesses and nearly three weeks of testimony, jurors are listening to closing arguments from the prosecution and the defense before they deliberate their verdicts in the Derek Chauvin trial.
Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, is charged with second-degree and third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. Bystander video and police body camera footage showed the former Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher spent nearly two hours delivering the closing argument for the state, telling the jury that Chauvin “betrayed the badge.” He told jurors that while Floyd said that day he was “not trying to win,” Derek Chauvin was.
“Facing George Floyd that day, that did not require one ounce of courage, and none was shown on that day,” Schleicher said. “No courage was required, all that was required was a little compassion. And none was shown on that day.”
Schleicher told the jury that they have to consider reasonable doubt, but not “nonsense.”
“You can believe your eyes,” Schleicher said, repeating the phrase from the state’s opening statement. “It’s what you felt in your gut, it’s what you now know in your heart. This wasn’t policing, this was murder.”
In defense attorney Eric Nelson’s closing argument, he emphasized to the jury that they cannot convict Chauvin if they see any reasonable doubt.
“The defendant does not have to prove his innocence,” he said. “The highest standard in this country is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He focused on two elements of the charges Chauvin is facing: whether the use of force was authorized, and the cause of George Floyd’s death.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell will be the last attorney the jury hears from when he gives a rebuttal.
Judge Peter Cahill instructed the jury on Thursday to bring a packed bag on Monday to prepare for sequestration. Up to this point in the trial, the jurors have been allowed to return home every afternoon after court. Witness testimony wrapped up on Thursday.
It is unknown how long it will take the jury to reach a verdict. Judge Cahill said that the timing is up to them, but that they should “plan for long and hope for short.”
Defense attorney Eric Nelson apologized in advance for being “long-winded” in his closing argument.
He reminded the jury that Chauvin is “presumed innocent” and that presumption remains with him “until and unless the state has proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“The defendant does not have to prove his innocence,” Nelson emphasized. “The highest standard in this country is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He told the jury that to convict, they would have to find that “any defense that has been advanced is unreasonable.”
Nelson urged the jury to carefully read the entire set of instructions given to them by the judge.
“Take the time, conduct an honest assessment of this case, and compare it to the law,” he said. “If they are missing any one single element, it is a not guilty verdict.”
Nelson told jurors he will focus on two elements: whether Chauvin’s use of force was authorized, and the cause of George Floyd’s death.
Nelson said all the police experts who testified agreed that officers can take many things into account “above and beyond” the basic facts of the situation: their training, their experience as a police officer, the department’s use-of-force policies, the location of the arrest, and what they know about the neighborhood.
A reasonable police officer takes into account the safety of the person they’ve arrested, how long EMS might take to get there, and whether the person is under the influence of a controlled substance, Nelson added.
He said that sometimes an officer takes someone into custody without a problem, and then suddenly there is a problem.
“It can change in an instant,” Nelson said.
While prosecutors focused on the nine minutes and 29 seconds of restraint, Nelson said he wants the jury to think about what happened beforehand. He reminded the jury that officers responded to Cup Foods for a report of a man who was over 6 feet tall and possibly under the influence of a substance.
He added that the 911 dispatcher, who testified in court, called for backup and told officers to “get there fast.”
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher delivered the state’s closing argument to the jury in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin.
“His name was George Perry Floyd, Jr.,” Schleicher began, telling the jury about Floyd’s birth and upbringing.
“He would always take time, special attention to be with his mother,” Schleicher told the jury, reminding them of the testimony from George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd. He showed photos of Floyd and his family as he spoke.
“George Floyd was surrounded by people he cared about and who cared about him, throughout his life,” Schleicher said. “On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died facedown on the pavement. Right on 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis. Nine minutes and 29 seconds.”
Schleicher continued to repeat that amount of time, which prosecutors said in their opening statements would be the most important numbers in the trial.
“Nine minutes and 29 seconds,” Schleicher said again. “During this time, George Floyd struggled, desperate to breathe. To make enough room in his chest to breathe. But the force was too much, he was trapped. 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’s weight on him, the lungs in his chest unable to expand.”
“George Floyd tried, he pushed his bare shoulder against the pavement to lift himself,” he said. “He pushed with his face to lift himself, to open his chest to give his lungs room to breathe.”
Schleicher countered testimony about “excited delirium” that some witnesses said could cause “superhuman strength,” telling the jury, “There was no superhuman strength that day. There was no superhuman strength because there are no superhumans.”
“He was surrounded by strangers, not a familiar face to say his final words,” he said. “But he did say them to someone. He said them to someone he did not know by name, but he knew them by the uniform he wore, and the badge he wore. And he called him Mr. Officer.”
Schleicher told the jury that while Floyd asked “Mr. Officer” to help, he did not help, instead “grinding his knees” and twisting Floyd’s fingers.
The prosecutor then recited the motto of the Minneapolis Police Department, “To protect with courage and to serve with compassion.”
“Facing George Floyd that day, that did not require one ounce of courage, and none was shown on that day,” he said. “No courage was required, all that was required was a little compassion. And none was shown on that day.”
Schleicher quoted Floyd’s words that day, “I’m not trying to win.”
Schleicher said that more than compassion, what Floyd needed was oxygen.
“Humans need that to breathe, and he said that, and the defendant heard him say that, over and over, he heard him but he just didn’t listen,” Schleicher said.
He emphasized that Chauvin ground his knee into Floyd, twisted his fingers and did not let up.
“When he was unable to speak, the defendant continued, when he was unable to breathe, the defendant continued,” Schleicher said. “When he no longer had a pulse, the defendant continued.”
Schleicher described Chauvin finally getting up when the ambulance arrived, and Floyd being carried away, limp. He repeated to the jury that Chauvin was “on top of him.”
“He had to know,” he said. “He had to know.”
Schleicher brought up the death certificate, pointing out that Floyd’s death was ruled a homicide.
“What the defendant did to George Floyd killed him,” he said.
Schleicher told the jury that they’ll have to put bias aside because people tend to trust the police.
“We believe the police are going to respond to our call for help,” he said.
He pointed out that after the bystanders saw what they saw, two of them called the police. Schleicher also commented that policing is a “noble profession.”
“To be very clear, this case is called the State of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin,” he said. “This case is not called the State of Minnesota vs. the police.”
Schleicher referenced the testimony from Minneapolis Police Chief Arradondo, who took the stand and testified that Chauvin did not act within his policy or training.
“You met the people who staff the training center and they told you, ‘We don’t train this,'” Schleicher said.
Schleicher told the jury that Chauvin did not follow his hundreds of hours of training, the use-of-force rules, or his training to render medical aid.
“He knew better, he just didn’t do better,” Schleicher said.
Schleicher took the jury through the charges and what the law says prosecutors have to prove for each one.
“He did what he did on purpose, and it killed George Floyd,” he said. “He betrayed the badge and everything it stood for.”
Schleicher painted a picture for the jury of Chauvin “facing down” the crowd of bystanders who were trying to tell him what to do.
“His ego, his pride, not the kind of pride that makes you do better, be better,” Schleicher said. “The kind of ego-based pride that the defendant was not going to be told what to do.”
Schleicher referenced a conversation between bystander Charles McMillian and Floyd, in which McMillian said “you can’t win” and Floyd responded, “I’m not trying to win.”
“The defendant was trying to win,” Schleicher said. “And George Floyd paid for it with his life.”
Schleicher took the jury through the events leading up to the officers’ restraint of Floyd, at each point saying, “That’s not resistance, that’s compliance.”
The prosecutor suggested to the jury that to Floyd, the back of the squad car looked like a cage.
“He tried to explain himself to the officers, that he had anxiety, that he had claustrophobia,” Schleicher said. He showed a video clip showing Floyd saying he’ll count to three and then get into the squad.
Schleicher argued to the jury that officers are trained to deal with people who don’t want to get into a squad car, and are trained to respond to people in crisis.
When George Floyd was pulled out of the car he said “thank you,” Schleicher said, telling the jury, “The problem was the back of the car.”
“It could have been over there,” he said, arguing that officers did not need to push Floyd into the prone position at that point.
“This is where the excessive force begins,” Schleicher said.
He reminded the jury that they have to consider “reasonable doubt,” but not “capricious doubt.”
“You’re not required to accept nonsense,” he said. “You’re not required to believe something that just flies in the face of common sense.”
He told them they’re not required to believe that the restraint did not constitute a use of force, that the car caused Floyd’s death, that the bystanders were a threat, or that “he chose that moment to die of heart disease.”
“Believe your eyes,” Schleicher said, repeating a phrase from the state’s opening statement. “What you saw happen, happened.”
Schleicher took the jury through the elements of each charge listed in the judge’s instructions, focusing on the requirement that Chauvin’s actions be a “substantial causal factor in causing the death.”
Referencing the testimony of the medical experts called by the state, Schleicher said that Floyd died of low oxygen, which resulted in an anoxic seizure shown on video.
“His heart failed because the defendant’s use of force, the 9:29, that deprived him of the oxygen that he needed, that humans need, to live,” he said. “It would have cut off oxygen of a healthy person, of anyone.”
Addressing the drugs in Floyd’s system, the prosecutor reminded jurors that his fentanyl level was below the median of people who were driving under the influence. He also referenced testimony that Floyd’s death “looked nothing like” a fentanyl overdose.
“George Floyd didn’t have to die that day,” Schleicher told the jury. “These actions were not policing, these actions were an assault.”
Schleicher pointed out that no witnesses defended Chauvin’s decision not to give CPR, even the medical expert called by the defense.
“This isn’t protection, this isn’t courage, and it certainly, certainly is not and was not compassion,” he said. “It was the opposite of that.”
Schleicher argued that the “negligence” needed to prove Chauvin committed second-degree manslaughter includes both refusing to turn Floyd to the recovery position, and the failure to perform CPR on a person in his custody.
Schleicher told the jury that Floyd said “I can’t breathe” 27 times in four minutes and 45 seconds of restraint, before the other officers told Chauvin they believed he was passed out, and they could not find a pulse.
“The greatest skeptic among you, how can you justify this use of force on this man when he has no pulse?” Schleicher asked.
He described the bystanders, random community members Schleicher said were brought together by fate and “bore witness” to George Floyd’s death. He said those community members felt “powerless” to save Floyd.
“All they could do was watch and gather what they could,” he said. “Gather their memories, gather their thoughts and impressions, gather those precious recordings. And they gathered those up and they brought them here.”
Schleicher told the jurors that after being randomly selected by a summons, only they can convict Chauvin.
“You have the power,” he said.
“You can believe your eyes,” Schleicher added. “It’s what you felt in your gut, it’s what you now know in your heart. This wasn’t policing, this was murder.”
Judge Peter Cahill began to give the jury their official instructions for deliberating toward a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial Monday morning.
“Deciding questions of fact is your exclusive responsibility,” Cahill said. He reminded the jurors they can consider everything they heard in court, and nothing they heard outside the courtroom.
“The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges made,” Cahill told the jury. He told them the state bears the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is not a “capricious doubt” and is not beyond “any doubt.”
Cahill told the jurors they can consider circumstantial evidence, giving the example of seeing deer tracks in the snow and inferring that a deer walked through.
“The fact that other causes contributed to the death does not relieve the defendant of responsibility,” Cahill told the jury, unless they determine there was a superseding cause that came in after Chauvin committed the act and was the “sole” cause of death.
The judge explained each charge and what the prosecution needs to prove for each one.
- For second-degree murder while committing a felony, they have to prove that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death while committing or attempting to commit third-degree assault. Cahill said the state does not need to prove Chauvin intended to kill Floyd, only that he committed or intended to commit assault. Cahill said it is not necessary for the state to prove that Chauvin intended to cause substantial bodily harm, only that he intended to commit the assault and then the assault caused substantial bodily harm.
- For third-degree murder, the state has to prove Chauvin caused the death of George Floyd “by an intentional aSct that was eminently dangerous to other persons,” acting with a “mental state consistent with reckless disregard for human life.” Cahill said the act does not have to cause death intentionally, but had to be committed with a “conscious indifference to the loss of life that the eminently dangerous act could cause.”
- For second-degree manslaughter, the state has to prove that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death by “culpable negligence.” The jury has to conclude that Chauvin took an “unreasonable risk” and “consciously took a chance” of causing death or great bodily harm.
Cahill also read to the jury instructions about “aiding and abetting” charges and what they mean.
“No crime is committed” if a police officer used force that a “reasonable police officer in the same situation would believe to be necessary,” Cahill told the jury.
The jury has to consider the “totality of the circumstances” Chauvin was facing.
Significantly, Cahill did not include language telling the jury not to “consider the 20/20 vision of hindsight,” which is often included in the instructions during a police officer’s trial.
Cahill also told the jury that they “should not draw any inference” from the fact that Chauvin invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not take the stand.