• April 19, 2024

Closing arguments in George Floyd death

MINNEAPOLIS — Attorneys for the prosecution and defense in the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, charged in George Floyd’s death, were presenting their closing arguments Monday, summarizing their respective evidence and witness testimony and trying to focus jurors on the most important elements.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher said Chauvin “chose pride over policing” last Memorial Day, calling Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck “unnecessary, gratuitous and disproportionate.”

“And he did it on purpose. This was not an accident. He did not trip and fall and find himself on George Floyd’s neck,” Schleicher said, adding, “Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw.”

Lead defense attorney Eric Nelson, meanwhile, urged jurors to take into account “the totality of the circumstances.” He said focusing on the 9 minutes and 29 seconds Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck “ignores the previous 16 minutes and 59 seconds.”

The prosecution rested its case last week after calling 38 witnesses and playing dozens of video clips over the course of 11 days. The defense rested Thursday after calling seven witnesses over two days.

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Latest updates:

  • Prosecution attorney Jerry Blackwell began his rebuttal.
  • Attorney Eric Nelson spoke for more than 2 1/2 hours in his closing argument before the judge interrupted him to call for a lunch break. Nelson finished his argument after lunch.
  • Prosecutor Steve Schleicher spoke for an hour and 45 minutes in his closing argument for the state.
  • George Floyd’s brother, Philonise, was in the courtroom Monday. A woman was in the Chauvin family seat.
  • Judge Peter Cahill opened court Monday by instructing the 14 members of the jury on the law in the case. Before the jurors go into sequestration for deliberations later in the day, two members of the jury will be informed that they were alternates and will not be part of deliberations.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson gives closing argument: ‘The state has failed to meet its burden of proof’

Chauvin took his face mask off during the first part of closing by lead defense attorney Eric Nelson, who took aim at the state’s case for about two and half hours before Judge Peter Cahill called for a lunch break. 

Most of Nelson’s argument focused on urging the jury to consider the totality of the events of the evening of May 25, 2020 — not just the nine minutes and 29 seconds that the state argued is the heart of the case and the charges against Chauvin.

Nelson walked jurors through his views on the videos, police policies and cause of Floyd’s death.

“The proper analysis is to take those 9 minutes and 29 seconds and put it into the context of the totality of the circumstances. The proper analysis starts with what did the officers or what would a reasonable officer know at the time of dispatch,” he said.

In this image from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin listens as his defense attorney Eric Nelson gives closing arguments as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill preside Monday, April 19, 2021.

Nelson, who noted Floyd’s large size at over 200 pounds, said Chauvin followed the policies in place at the time of Floyd’s death, including the knee restraint he used — something barred by Minneapolis police in the wake of Floyd’s death.

Nelson said Floyd’s death was “tragic,” but argued Chauvin did not cause his death. He drew the jury’s attention to Floyd’s history of drug use, including fentanyl and methamphetamine, and his heart problems. 

Nelson also took aim at Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist and star witness for the state who testified that Floyd died of asphyxia, or low oxygen, because of the police restraint. Noting that Tobin had many hundreds hours to review videos and other evidence, Nelson argued Tobin was misleading the jury by giving an incomplete picture of the struggle. “His entire testimony is filled with theory, speculation, assumption,” Nelson said.

On the toxicology, Nelson said it’s clear that Floyd had taken drugs soon before the struggle. “For the medical experts to minimize the timing and the amount of illicit drugs that were found in Mr. Floyd’s bloodstream, is just simply incredible to me, is incredible,” he said.

After lunch, Nelson apologized yet again to the jury for the length of his argument and continued to argue that Floyd’s death was “multifactorial.”

“I would submit to you that it is nonsense to suggest none of these other factors had any role,” Nelson said.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher gives closing argument: Chauvin’s actions ‘a shocking abuse of police power’

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher gave the closing argument for the state Monday morning, repeating “9 minutes and 29 seconds” through his one-hour and 45-minute remarks.

“George Floyd’s final words on May 25, 2020, were: ‘Please, I can’t breathe.’ He asked for help with his very last breath,” Schleicher said. “This was a call about a counterfeit $20 bill. All that was required was compassion.”

Schleicher’s argument evoked the testimony last week of Tobin, who described Floyd’s last minutes in detail, pointing out his scraped knuckles against the back tire of the police squad car. “He was trapped,” Schleicher said. “He was trapped with the unyielding pavement underneath him as unyielding as the men who held him down. Pushing him.”

Calling Chauvin’s actions a “shocking abuse of police power,” Schleicher recalled testimony from previous weeks – horrified bystanders calling the police on the police, and the presence of a 9-year-old watching Floyd restrained under Chauvin’s knees.

Schleicher said Chauvin’s actions were “not policing” but “an assault.” 

“This is not a prosecution of the police, it’s a prosecution of the defendant,” he said. “And there’s nothing worse for good police than bad police, who doesn’t follow the rules, who doesn’t follow training.” 

Schleicher reminded jurors Chauvin had hundreds of hours of training over his 19 years with the Minneapolis Police Department. Schleicher said Chauvin should have known how to handle someone in crisis, reminding jurors Floyd told police about his anxiety and claustrophobia. But just because he couldn’t comply doesn’t mean he was resisting, he said.  

Schleicher told jurors Floyd did not die of a heart attack, drug overdose, “excited delirium” or carbon monoxide poisoning, as the defense has suggested. He told jurors that they must decide: “Would but for the defendant’s actions, pushing him down, would George Floyd have died that day?” 

He urged jurors to “use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw.” 

In this image from video, prosecutor Steve Schleicher gives closing arguments as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Monday, April 19, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis.

Using a chart and checklist, Schleicher walked jurors through the definitions and elements of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He reminded jurors of testimony and replayed video and provided still images to substantiate each element. As Schleicher spoke, Chauvin appeared to take notes on a yellow legal pad, as he has been doing for weeks. As did the jurors, who watched Schleicher attentively.

Schleicher wrapped up his argument with an emotional appear to jurors. “Random members of the community all converged by fate at one singe moment in time to witness something, to witness 9 minutes and 29 seconds of shocking abuse of authority, to watch a man die, and there was nothing they could do about it because they were powerless,” Schleicher said.”

“All they could do was watch and gather what they could, gather their memories, gather their thoughts and impressions, gather those precious recordings. And they gathered those up and they brought them here. … They gave it to you, randomly selected people from the community.”

In closing, Schleicher told jurors: “This isn’t policing this is murder. The defendant is guilty of all three counts, all of them, and there’s no excuse.”

What the charges against Chauvin mean

Here’s a breakdown of the Minnesota criminal charges against Derek Chauvin.

Second-degree murder is causing the death of a human being, without intent to cause that death, while committing or attempting to commit another felony. In the Chauvin case, the alleged felony was third-degree assault. Chauvin is charged with committing or intentionally aiding in commission of this crime.

To convict Chauvin on this count, Judge Peter Cahill told jurors Monday that they only must find that the former officer intended to commit an assault that could cause bodily harm, or intentionally aided in committing such an assault. “It is not necessary for the state to prove the defendant had an intent to kill George Floyd. But it must prove that the defendant committed, or attempted to commit, the underlying felony,” the judge said.

Cahill added that the state must prove that the assault either inflicted bodily harm on Floyd, or was intended to commit bodily harm.

Third-degree murder is unintentionally causing someone’s death by committing an act that is eminently dangerous to other persons while exhibiting a depraved mind, with reckless disregard for human life. Chauvin is accused of committing or intentionally aiding in the commission of this crime.

Under Minnesota law, an act that is eminently dangerous is one that “is highly likely to cause death,” Cahill told jurors. “The defendant’s act may not have been specifically intended to cause death,” and “it may not have been specifically directed at the person whose death occurred, but it must have been committed with a conscious indifference to the loss of life,” the judge said.

Second-degree manslaughter is culpable negligence where a person creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes the chance of causing death or great bodily harm to someone else. Chauvin is charged with committing or intentionally aiding in commission of this crime.

Culpable negligence means that Chauvin allegedly “created an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm,” Chauvin told jurors. “Culpable negligence is intentional conduct that the defendant may not have intended to be harmful, but that an ordinary and reasonably prudent person would recognize as having a strong probability of causing injury to others,” said the judge.

If convicted of the most serious charge, Chauvin faces 12 1/2 years or 150 months in prison under sentencing guidelines for a first-time offender. But, the prosecution argues there are aggravating factors that require a longer prison term. That means Chauvin may face longer than that sentence.

Who are the jurors who will decide whether Derek Chauvin is guilty?

Over about two weeks last month, lawyers for the prosecution and defense quizzed potential jurors about their knowledge of Floyd’s death, their opinions of Chauvin, and their attitudes about police, racial injustice, and the protests and rioting that followed Floyd’s death.

Some of them questioned how much force was used against Floyd, who lay on the ground for more than nine minutes as Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck. Several believe the criminal justice system needs to be reformed. More than one questioned the movement to defund police departments. Discussing her opinion about Black Lives Matter, one woman responded, “I am Black, and my life matters.”

Before being selected, the jurors pledged to set their opinions aside. But their answers provide a glimpse into how they might respond to the evidence they heard over the past few weeks. Read more about the jurors here.

Pig’s head left at former home of Chauvin defense witness Barry Brodd

A group of people vandalized the former Northern California home of an expert witness who testified for the defense, police said, throwing a pig’s head on the front porch and blood splatter on the house.

The incident occurred in Santa Rosa, California, where retired police officer Barry Brodd once lived and worked. Brodd last week testified in Chauvin’s trial, saying the former Minneapolis police officer was “justified” in his use of force against Floyd.

The Santa Rosa Police Department said Brodd no longer lives at the residence nor in California, but that, “It appears the suspects in this vandalism were targeting Mr. Brodd for his testimony.”

Brodd was the first witness to say he believed that Chauvin was following proper police practice when he knelt on Floyd’s neck. However, several Minneapolis police officers, including the police chief, along with local police trainers and national use-of-force experts, testified that Chauvin’s actions were not justified. Read more here. 

— Ryan W. Miller

People gather in George Floyd Square ahead of Chauvin closing arguments

More than a hundred people gathered in George Floyd Square on Sunday afternoon for a rally to show solidarity between the Black and Asian communities ahead of closing arguments.

Organizers advertised the event as “a safe space for sharing grief and also creating joy” during tense times in the city and dedicated it to Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in nearby Brooklyn Center last week.

Tri Vo, 25, said he usually visits George Floyd Square when there are no crowds so he can reflect and because he feels that space is reserved for Black and indigenous people. Vo, a digital organizer with Southeast Asian Diaspora Project, said he came Sunday to help educate southeast Asians about “what their stake is in this.” Read more.

How jury deliberations will work at Derek Chauvin trial

Jurors must decide whether or not the government proved all of the elements of a given charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense bears no burden of proof, and Chauvin is deemed innocent unless convicted at trial.

The jurors will be sequestered during deliberations. The court will provide meals for the jurors and put them up for the night in a hotel, where security will be provided by marshals. The jurors are not allowed to discuss the case with anyone else, or even with each other when they’re outside the deliberation room.

They are allowed to review any of the exhibits that were entered into evidence. They also are allowed to re-hear specific testimony from any of the witnesses. The jurors may send written messages out to the judge with any questions that arise.

“If I were you, I would plan for long (deliberations) and hope for short,” Cahill told jurors Thursday. More on how jury deliberations will work here.


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