After over a month of court proceedings, attorneys for the prosecution and the defense gave their closing arguments in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Monday (April 19).
Chauvin faces three charges in the death of George Floyd last May, the longest maximum sentence among the charges being 40 years.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors have argued that Chauvin killed Floyd after kneeling on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Prosecutors presented video evidence, called 45 witnesses to the stand, including the Minneapolis police chief, bystanders, Floyd’s girlfriend, medical experts, and law enforcement officials, who testified that Chauvin’s actions and inactions in getting Floyd medical attention were a direct cause of Floyd’s death.
Chauvin’s defense lawyer has argued that bystanders, Floyd’s drug use, and the exhaust from the patrol car were contributing factors in Floyd’s death, not his client’s knee.
Prosecution Presents Closing Arguments: Chauvin “knew better, he just didn’t do better”
In court on Monday (April 19), state prosecutor Steve Schleicher opened his closing arguments by saying George Floyd’s name.
“His name was George Perry Floyd, Jr. and he was born on October 14, 1973 in Fayetteville, North Carolina,” Schleicher began. He went on to talk about Floyd’s family, and repeatedly refuted the argument from one of the defense’s witnesses that Floyd had “superhuman” strength that somehow justified Chauvin’s actions.
“On May 25, 2020, George Floyd died face down on the pavement on 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis. Nine minutes and 29 seconds, nine minutes and 29 seconds. During this time, George Floyd struggled. Desperate to breathe, to make enough room in his chest, to breath. But the force was too much. He was trapped. Trapped with the unyielding payment underneath him –– as unyielding as the men that held him down.”
Schleicher spent nearly two hours reiterating the state’s case, reminding the jury that Chauvin and three other officers were called to the scene for a report of a counterfeit $20 bill.
Schleicher underlined the point that Chauvin act in a way that was not how he was trained, and if he had, George Floyd’s life might have been saved.
“The defendant knew how to do it, he had the training. He knew better. He just didn’t do better. George Floyd did not have to die that day. But, for the fact, that the defendant decided not to get up, and not to let up. George Floyd died.”
“And you can believe your own eyes,” Schleicher told the jury. “This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video. It is exactly that. You can believe your eyes.”
“This wasn’t policing. This wasn’t policing. This was murder,” he added, before conlcuding with this: “The defendant was guilty of all three counts, all of them, and there was no excuse.”
During his closing statement, Schleicher spelled out what the charges are against Chauvin and how the State proved their case against him.
For each charge, prosecutors showed how they proved their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The Charges Against Chauvin
Derek Chauvin faces three charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Here’s what that means the jury has to decide for each.
For second-degree unintentional murder, the jury has to decide if the state “proved beyond a reasonable doubt” that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death, while also committing an underlying felony. For this charge, it’s just the intent to act that must be proved, not intent to kill. This charge carries a 40-year maximum in prison.
In the third-degree murder charge, the jury will decide if the state proved that Chauvin acted recklessly in a way that is “eminently dangerous” to other with “depraved mind.” Chauvin could face up to 25 years if convicted of this charge.
Second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum of 10 years in prison. The jury will decide if the state proved that Chauvin was “culpably negligent” and ignored the risk of bodily harm or death.
Closing Arguments From the Defense
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, opened his statements thanking the jury for this service and by defining “reasonable doubt.”
He told the jury that Chauvin has a “presumption of innocence” and that he “does not have to catch up.”
He repeated “reasonable police officer” throughout his arguments, and asked the jury to consider the information Chauvin had before arriving on the scene at the Cup Foods convenience store.
Nelson played a clip of a 911 dispatch for the jury in which the dispatcher described a male who “is 6 feet tall or higher.” “He is sitting on top of a blue Mercedes… It also appears this subject is under the influence,” the dispatcher can be heard saying in the clip, bringing back the argument that George Floyd’s size as a justification for the use of force shown by the officers. During the prosecution’s statement, Schleicher dashed the notion that Floyd’s size made Chauvin’s actions appropriate.
Nelson told the jury that only considering the nine minutes and 29 seconds that Chauvin put his knee into Floyd's neck is not "proper analysis."
"It's not the proper analysis because the 9 minutes and 29 seconds ignores the previous 15 minutes and 59 seconds. Completely disregards," he said. Nelson added, "It says in that moment, at that point, nothing else that happened before should be taken into consideration by a reasonable police officer. It tries to re-frame the issue of what a reasonable police officer would do."
Nelson argued again that bystanders distracted Chauvin from performing the duties he swore to do while someone was in the custody of Minneapolis police and needed medical attention.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell took the podium to offer a rebuttal to Nelson's more than two and half hours of closing arguments. Blackwell first laid out for the jury what the actual law says the state had to prove in their case. He directly combated the notion that the jury would have to consider other contributing factors to Floyd's death.
Blackwell told the jury, "there's a 46th witness [in this case] –– common sense." He said that this case isn't complicated, that "a child could understand," before adding, "in fact a child did understand it," referring to a nine-year-old witness who testified in court during the first week of the trial.
Blackwell continued his rebuttal, refuting the medical arguments made by Nelson during the defense's closing statements. Blackwell recalled for the jury all of the bystanders' testimonies in contrast to Nelson's depiction that Chauvin was afraid of them. "They all came together," Blackwell said, to try and save George Floyd's life.
"There can be no excuse for police abuse," Blackwell repeated.
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What Happens Next?
Following closing arguments, the jury will enter deliberation where they will decide Chauvin's fate on each charge. They will have access to all of the evidence presented in the trial, and will be sequestered during this period.
Once a verdict is reached, the court will be called back and the jury will deliver the verdict.
The Black Information Network's trial-related content includes a nightly news special, titled "Searching for Justice for George Floyd," that airs at 7:00 pm ET Monday through Friday on all BIN 24/7 affiliates. Emmy Award-winning journalist Vanessa Tyler will anchor the daily 30-minute commercial-free recap of that day's testimony.
Additionally, BIN's Morgyn Wood will anchor live coverage of the trial on our Minneapolis affiliate BIN 93.3 FM. Tune in to Black Information Network 24/7's coverage on 31 Black Information Network affiliate stations and on the iHeartRadio app. Frequent updates and breaking news will also air on all 92 iHeartMedia Hip Hop, R&B, and Gospel music stations
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