September 22, 2021

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Chauvin trial live: Defense begins closing arguments – Minnesota Public Radio News

7 min read

MPR News is streaming live coverage of the trial. Some images or material discussed during the trial will be disturbing to many viewers. Watch the proceedings live here:

3 things to know:

  • Prosecution finishes its closing arguments; defense is presenting now

  • Derek Chauvin did not testify in his defense, invoking his right to remain silent

  • Case expected to hinge on responsibility for George Floyd’s death; defense points to Floyd’s health conditions, drugs; prosecution points to Chauvin’s actions, knee on Floyd’s neck

Updated 11:57 a.m.

Closing arguments in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin began Monday with prosecutors painting the ex-officer as a cop who disregarded his training, his department’s use of force rules and George Floyd’s suffering as the man lay handcuffed and pinned to the street under Chauvin’s knee.

“George Floyd was not a threat to anyone,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher told jurors. “Facing George Floyd that day did not require one ounce of courage. All that was required was a little compassion, and none was shown.”

The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, Schleicher said. “What the defendant did to George Floyd killed him.”

Interspersing his remarks with video from the arrest and restraint, Schleicher said Chauvin’s subduing of Floyd was not within the bounds of his training and not reasonable police behavior.

“What the defendant did was not policing. What the defendant did was an assault,” the prosecutor said. “He betrayed the badge.”

Aware that jurors generally tend to defer to police officers on use of force, Schleicher worked to define Chauvin as a bad cop. “It’s not an anti-police prosecution,” he said at one point. “It’s a pro-police prosecution.”

Walking the jury through the requirements of second-degree murder — the most serious charge against Chauvin — Schleicher noted the statute’s language of “intentionally inflicting or attempting to inflict bodily harm upon the victim.”

He added: “If you’re doing something that hurts somebody, and you know it, then you’re doing it on purpose.” The state, he said, did not need to prove Chauvin intended to kill Floyd.

A lawyer delivers closing arguments.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher delivers closing arguments in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial on Monday.

Screenshot of Court TV video

He noted that Chauvin was bound by his training to provide CPR and other medical aid with Floyd pleading that he couldn’t breathe just before losing consciousness. “Was George Floyd resisting when he was trying to breathe? No.”

The prosecutor said Chauvin heard Floyd’s pleadings for air, “acknowledged it, and all he did was mock him. ‘Uh huh. It takes a lot oxygen to stay that.’”

He finished by urging the jury to convict Chauvin on all counts.

The ex-Minneapolis police officer faces charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Floyd while the man lay handcuffed and pinned to the pavement after allegedly using a counterfeit $20 to buy cigarettes at a corner store in south Minneapolis.

Bystander video at the scene captured Chauvin with his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the man pleaded that he couldn’t breathe and as people shouted from the curb that Floyd was dying. Chauvin and three other officers were fired.

Weeks of trial testimony have revolved around a basic question: Who or what is responsible for Floyd’s death? The defense has pointed to Floyd’s health conditions and the drugs in his system. The prosecution has put the blame on Chauvin’s actions and his knee on Floyd’s neck.

The climactic chapters of the trial began Monday morning at the Hennepin County Courthouse. Judge Peter Cahill began by walking jurors through the law and each count.

The defense arguments have begun.

The case will then go to jurors to deliberate perhaps the most consequential verdict in Minnesota history.

Bracing for a verdict

It’s not clear how fast the jury will rule once it get the case. Jurors will remain isolated at a local hotel during their deliberations. Mitchell Hamline School of Law adjunct professor Angela Porter said the desire of sequestered jurors to return home to their lives and families can sometimes be a motivating factor in their speed.

As the jurors deliberate, tensions will stay high in the Twin Cities and across the country. Floyd’s killing sparked worldwide outrage when the video of the police subduing him went viral on social media. It drove peaceful mass demonstrations that sometimes spasmed into violence.

The image of a white police officer who appeared casually indifferent to the suffering of a Black man under his knee begging for his life made race an inescapable piece of the trial and jury selection.

Among the 14 jurors chosen, there are three Black men, including two who are immigrants; one Black woman; two women who identify as multiracial; two white men; and six white women.

Two are alternates and it’s not clear who they are, so the exact racial and ethnic makeup of the jury isn’t clear.

But the public shouldn’t be in a rush to get a verdict, said Frank Aba-Onu, president of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers.

“I think for us watching we need to give people grace and time, because they need to go through each of the points, the elements one by one,” he said. “There are people there from different walks of life, different backgrounds and they see and hear things differently and they need to come to a consensus.”

If they can’t reach a verdict, the judge can declare a mistrial and the state could try to convict Chauvin all over again.

Trial basics

Two men sit behind a desk.
Ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (right), charged in the killing of George Floyd, right, and his defense attorney Eric Nelson take notes during his trial in April.

Screenshot of Court TV video

Who’s who: A look at the key players in the trial.

Need to know: Key questions about the trial, answered.

What we know about the jurors: The 12 jurors and two alternates picked to review the case include a chemist, a youth volunteer, a cardiac nurse and an IT professional.

Key questions about jury deliberations, answered: The panel will weigh whether the former Minneapolis officer’s actions led to George Floyd’s death while in police custody last May.

Chauvin’s lawyer is outnumbered, but has help: No fewer than four attorneys have appeared for the prosecution so far, compared to a single attorney to defend Derek Chauvin.

Legion of Chauvin prosecutors, each with own role: Viewers may be struck by the array of prosecutors taking turns presenting their case. The choice of who does what is no accident.

MPR News on its coverage: Nancy Lebens, the newsroom’s deputy managing editor, answered audience questions about our reporting plans.

George Floyd and his legacy

People stand arm in arm and pray in front of a large building.
George Floyd’s brother Terrence Floyd (second from left) Rachel Noerdlinger (left), attorney Ben Crump and the Rev. Al Sharpton (right) pray during a press conference outside of the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on Tuesday.

Evan Frost | MPR News

Remembering George Floyd, the man: Before he became a symbol in the fight for racial justice, friends say George Floyd was a “gentle giant” who sought a fresh start.

Making George Floyd Square: Here’s how the site of George Floyd’s killing — 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis — is being reshaped.

Rescuing the plywood — and memorializing a movement: Two Black women are leading the effort to preserve the murals painted on storefront boards in the Twin Cities.

Calls for change: Here’s what some activists tell MPR News about their experiences with race in Minnesota, why they march and what they hope for the future.

Read more

A group of people with their fists in the air.
People put their fists in the air during a rally for Black and Asian solidarity at George Floyd Square on Sunday.

Evan Frost | MPR News

Lawmakers tussle over public safety practices as Chauvin verdict nears: As the public braces for a verdict and security plans get put in motion, pressure will also be on state leaders as they decide how to respond to both the short-term ramifications and the broader calls for change.

Critics say Chauvin defense ‘weaponized’ stigma for Black Americans with addiction: Derek Chauvin’s defense has suggested George Floyd’s drug use might have made him more “volatile” and unpredictable, justifying the use of force. Critics say Floyd needed health care and compassion. (NPR)

What the Chauvin trial feels like for the neighbors keeping vigil in George Floyd Square: People in the community talk about Black liberation, “vulturistic” visitors and why there’s not a TV showing the trial. (Sahan Journal)

NPR’s live blog: The latest from the murder trial of Derek Chauvin.

Questions about the Chauvin trial? Ask us

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