WASHINGTON – A U.S. jury in a Minnesota courtroom Monday heard sharply different claims of how George Floyd, a Black man, died last year, then began deliberations in the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing Floyd in one of the country’s highest profile cases in recent years.
A prosecutor accused Chauvin of killing Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. A defense attorney contended that Floyd died partly from drug use and that Chauvin was following his police training in the way he arrested Floyd last May on a Minneapolis street.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher summed up the case against Chauvin, 45, the white police officer who held down the handcuffed, 46-year-old Floyd, as he lay prone on a city street and gasped — 27 times, according to videos of his arrest — that he could not breathe.
“He was trapped … a knee to his neck,” Schleicher said, with Chauvin’s weight on him for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
“George Floyd was not a threat to anyone,” Schleicher said. “All that was required was some compassion, and he got none.”
But defense attorney Eric Nelson, in more than 2½ hours of arguments before the racially diverse 12-member jury, contended that Chauvin followed his police training in restraining Floyd on the pavement of a Minneapolis city street after the suspect initially resisted police efforts to put him into a squad car.
“No crime was committed if it was an authorized use of force,” Nelson argued.
“The state has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” the legal standard for a conviction, the defense attorney concluded as he asked the jurors to acquit Chauvin of murder and manslaughter charges.
The defense lawyer contended that rather than treating Floyd poorly, Chauvin told him to relax while he was on the ground and called for an emergency medical crew, although it arrived after Floyd had lost consciousness.
Nelson dismissed the prosecution’s claim that Chauvin asphyxiated Floyd, saying that Floyd’s death was caused at least partly by his drug use and a sudden heart failure.
WATCH: Video report on Derek Chauvin trial
Floyd was suspected of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a nearby convenience store.
But the routine police investigation of a minor case last May 25 and Floyd’s subsequent death have resulted in one of the most consequential U.S. criminal trials in years.
In the aftermath of the incident 11 months ago, Floyd’s death triggered widespread street protests against police abuse of minorities across the U.S. and in major cities overseas.
Schleicher argued that Chauvin, a 19-year police veteran before he was fired in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, ignored his police training in the way he arrested Floyd and used excessive and unnecessary force in holding him down.
Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him in Floyd’s death. If convicted, he faces up to 40 years in prison.
Schleicher’s closing argument lasted 1 hour and 43 minutes, with the prosecutor repeatedly contending that Floyd “didn’t have to die,” if only Chauvin had followed his police training and used appropriate force in apprehending Floyd or given him medical assistance when he said he could not breathe.
“He violated police use of force. He did not provide emergency care. He did it on purpose,” Schleicher argued. “He violated his training, and he killed a man.”
The prosecutor claimed that Chauvin was “consciously indifferent” to Floyd’s life.
Schleicher rhetorically asked the jury, “Was this authorized use of force? Was it justified? It was not.”
“This was murder,” Schleicher concluded.
Trial judge Peter Cahill read instructions on legal aspects of the case to the jurors for them to apply when they consider whether to convict or acquit Chauvin. The judge told the jury not to draw any inference on Chauvin’s innocence or guilt from his declining to testify in the case, as was his right.
Last week, Chauvin invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination and did not take the witness stand. Under U.S. law, the prosecution must prove the allegations against defendants, and defendants are assumed innocent until proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Jurors will be sequestered until they reach a verdict.
As the case nears the end, authorities in the Midwestern city of Minneapolis are braced for possible street protests after the verdict. Many stores are boarded up to prevent a recurrence of the damage and looting that took place after Floyd’s death almost a year ago.
Protests, some of them violent, broke out in many cities in the U.S. and throughout the world. The Black Lives Matter movement was at the forefront of the demonstrations, but thousands of people who had no previous connection to the Black-led protests joined in to condemn Chauvin’s actions, and more broadly, police treatment of minorities.
The same issues raised by Floyd’s death came to the forefront in the community again when a now-resigned police officer in a Minneapolis suburb fatally shot a 20-year-old African American man during a traffic stop on April 11.