The murder and manslaughter case against Derek Chauvin is now with the jury for deliberations.
After nearly six hours of closing arguments and rebuttal Monday, two alternates were dismissed and the remaining jurors — seven women and five men — were led away by a deputy for deliberations on charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter against the former Minneapolis police officer in connection with the death of George Floyd on May 25.
Monday's deliberations ended at 8 p.m. without verdicts on any of the counts, and will resume Tuesday morning.
Once the jury left the courtroom for the day, defense attorney Eric Nelson called for a mistrial, citing immense media exposure, particularly a comment by Democratic U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters over the weekend in which the California Democrat said while in the Twin Cities that protesters should get "more confrontational" if there is no guilty verdict.
"I'll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result on this whole trial being overturned," Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said, denying the motion while acknowledging that Nelson's concerns were legitimate.
"This goes back to what I've been saying from the beginning," the judge said. "I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function.
"I think if they want to give their opinions, they should do so in a respectful and in a manner that is consistent with their oath to the Constitution to respect a coequal branch of government. Their failure to do so I think is abhorrent, but I don't think it has prejudiced us with additional material that would prejudice this jury," Cahill said, adding that the jury has been repeatedly told to not to follow the news.
Two jurors who sat through the presentation of all the evidence and testimony were dismissed as alternates: both white women, one in her 50s and another in her 20s.
The 12-person jury charged with reaching unanimous verdicts on each count has six people who are white, four who are Black and two who are multiracial. Two are in their 20s, three in their 30s, three in their 40s, three in their 50s and one in their 60s.
Proceedings resumed shortly after 9 a.m. before Cahill, who has been presiding over the case since March 8, when defense and prosecution lawyers began selecting jurors. Cahill began by reading his instructions to the jury on the law.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher used 1 hour and 45 minutes to argue that Chauvin's pinning of Floyd on the pavement at 38th and Chicago robbed the 46-year-old man of oxygen until he died as a bystander recorded the restraint on her cellphone and shared it with the world on social media.
"The only thing about [the] defendant's intent that we have to prove is that he applied force to George Floyd on purpose," Schleicher said. "Somebody's telling you they can't breathe, and you keep doing it. You're doing it on purpose. ... How can you justify the continued force on this man when he has no pulse."
Co-prosecutor Jerry Blackwell had the last word during closing arguments while rebutting Nelson's marathon effort to persuade the jury, when he noted how the defense referenced Floyd having a heart that was too big, and countered, "The reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin's heart is too small."
With that, Cahill sent the jurors off to their deliberations shortly before 4 p.m. and reminded them not to be influenced by outside forces including publicity about the case and weigh the evidence based on the law. "You must be absolutely fair," the judge said.
At the outset Monday morning, Schleicher reminded jurors that Floyd said "I can't breathe" 27 times in the first 4 minutes and 45 seconds of this encounter. The prosecutor also said "9 minutes and 29 seconds" all throughout his presentation, reminding jurors of the length of time that Chauvin had Floyd pinned to the pavement.
"Was George Floyd resisting when he was trying to breathe? No," he said, adding that Chauvin chose to mock Floyd by saying, "It takes a lot of oxygen to complain."
Wrapping up after focusing on the officer's actions, his training and the medical evidence in the case, Schleicher called on the jurors to convict Chauvin on all counts because "it is not an excuse for the shocking abuse you saw with your own eyes" thanks to a teenage bystander's video of Floyd's detention on the pavement as he drew his last breath on May 25.
"You can believe your eyes," the prosecutor said. "It's exactly what you knew. It's what you felt in your gut. It's what you felt in your heart."
Nelson took his turn and went for more than 2½ hours until Cahill interrupted him and ordered a 30-minute recess for lunch at 2:10 p.m. Nelson returned to the podium at 2:44 p.m. and promised "to speed things up."
He needed another 16 minutes to conclude and said that when the jurors review the evidence and the law, "all within a thorough analysis, the state has failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt" and Chauvin should be found not guilty.
Nelson started by pointing out two legal pillars that he wanted jurors to keep in mind: the presumption of innocence that his client is afforded and the requirement that the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt before there can be a finding of guilt on any of the charges.
"The use of force is an incredibly difficult analysis," Nelson said. "You can't limit it to 9 minutes and 29 seconds, but it started nearly 17 minutes earlier."
This was an authorized use of force, "as unattractive as that may be," he said after lightly pounding his hand onto the lectern to drive his point home. He said this case has "reasonable doubt. ... There is absolutely no evidence that Officer Chauvin intentionally, purposefully applied unlawful force."
The prosecution exercised its option to speak last, and Blackwell rose to say there is another witness in this case for jurors to hear from beyond the 45 who took the stand earlier.
Blackwell said the 46th witness was testifying to them before they got there and will testify when they're deliberating. "That witness is "common sense," he said.
"It is so simple that a child could understand it," Blackwell said. "In fact, a child did," a reference to a 9-year-old girl who stood nearby and said to police, " 'Get off of him.' "
The prosecutor asked rhetorically, "How is that a reasonable exercise in the use of force? You can believe your eyes. It was what it was. It was homicide. ... There is no excuse for police abuse."
"In your custody is in your care; it's not in your custody, I don't care," he said.
Nelson implored the jurors to look at the totality of the evidence. He cited prosecution witness Dr. Martin Tobin's rebuttal of a defense expert who said carbon monoxide was a possible factor in Floyd's death. Tobin testified it wasn't possible, because Floyd's blood was 98% oxygenated. However, Nelson pointed out the testimony of paramedics who gave Floyd oxygen, which explains the reoxygenation of his blood.
"Take the time and make an honest assessment of the facts of this case," he said. "We have to be intellectually honest about the evidence; we have to present it in an intellectually cohesive manner."
The defense attorney challenged another part of Tobin's testimony, when the doctor said Floyd used a knuckle against a squad tire to counter the prone position and be better able to breathe. Nelson said that act lasted but a second and came while Floyd was on his side.
"His entire testimony is filled with theory, speculation and assumption," Nelson said of Tobin.
Nelson showed the jurors body camera footage of Floyd's arrest to demonstrate his struggle with officer before he was on the ground. He said Chauvin's actions were in line of those of a reasonable police officer.
"A reasonable police officer would hear the words that a suspect is saying — I'm a good guy, I'm claustrophobic — and he's going to compare those words to the actions of the individual," Nelson said. " ... A reasonable police officer understands the intensity of the struggle ... Mr. Floyd was able to overcome the efforts of three police officers while handcuffed with his legs and his body strength."
As Nelson strung out his points, Chauvin sat at the defense table and looked up more than he did during the state's closing argument.
Nelson repeated "9 minutes and 29 seconds" multiple times as he alleged that prosecutors have given little weight when three officers struggled in vain to get a resistant and possibly high Floyd in the squad car after arresting him on suspicion of trying to pass a fake $20 bill at the Cup Foods store on the corner.
A reasonable officer would take into account the 16 minutes and 59 seconds leading up to the 9 minutes 29 seconds, Nelson said, adding that no one knows the unpredictability of human behavior more than officers.
"It's constantly rotating," the defense said of an officer's assessment of a scene and the suspect, including that Floyd might have been concocting reasons he couldn't get in the squad or be arrested.
Nelson turned to the testimony from several key witnesses to show that they not one of them has the whole story about all of the circumstances surrounding the incident. "Perspective and perception are two different things," he said.
Nelson said Charles McMillian, a 61-year-old man of limited eduction from the South, had a perspective that was different from 17-year-old high school student Darnella Frazier, off-duty firefighter Genevieve Hansen or martial arts instructor Donald Williams.
Rather, the most important perception based on perspective comes from a reasonable officer, the defense attorney said as he made the argument that Chauvin was just that on May 25 and had more information about the situation than the bystanders.
"We don't look at this incident from the perspective of a bystander," Nelson said. "We look at it from the perspective of a reasonable police officer."
Nelson pointed out that at the time Floyd took his last breath, Chauvin pulled out his mace and threatened to use it, while Hansen attempted to approach him. "All of these facts and circumstances simultaneously occur at a critical moment, and that changed Officer Chauvin's perception at that moment."
The contentions of the defense in its closing arguments served as a blueprint for Blackwell's rebuttal. He alleged that Nelson misled jurors when he said that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that heart problems and illicit drugs did not contribute to the death. "That's not the law," Blackwell said, who pointed out that Dr. Andrew Baker's autopsy results made note of those two factors among the contributing reasons for Floyd's death.
Blackwell showed the jurors graphic illustrating the 17,026 days of Floyd's life, and how he survived all of days until May 25, 2020, the day Chauvin and Floyd crossed paths.
He told the jurors that the state is not ignoring medical information and that Chauvin's use of force "set off a number of things medically for Mr. Floyd" that culminated in his death.
As for carbon monoxide possibly playing a role in Floyd's death, Blackwell said, "Whose car was it? ... If an officer is putting someone's face near a tailpipe emitting carbon monoxide, isn't that excessive use of force?"
In his closing arguments during the morning, Schleicher meticulously told of the moments of Floyd's restraint as he "struggled to make enough room in his chest to breathe. But the force was too much. He was trapped [by] the unyielding pavement as unyielding as the men who were pushing him."
"All that was required was a little compassion, and none was shown that day" by Chauvin, the prosecutor said during his address that was interspersed with photos and video from the scene that were part of the previously submitted evidence. "All that was needed was some oxygen."
Schleicher said Floyd called police "Mr. Officer" and "he pleaded with Mr. Officer. George Floyd's final words were ... 'Please, I can't breathe.' And he said those words to Mr. Officer. He said those words to the defendant."
"Sometimes you ask for the truth and sometimes you insist on the truth, and the truth is the defendant was on top of him for 9 minutes and 29 seconds," Schleicher continued, noting that there was no reason Chauvin didn't know Floyd was in grave danger. "He had to know. He had to know."
Schleicher reintroduced to the jurors some of the witnesses to Floyd's arrest, noting two of them called the police on the police. He explained that Floyd was compliant from the moment he had a police officer's gun close to his face all the way until officers tried to put him in a squad car but balked as he said he was claustrophobic. "He tried to explain himself to the officers that he had anxiety, that he had claustrophobia," he said
Schleicher said that once the officers gave up their efforts, "what did George Floyd say when they pulled him out of the car? 'Thank you.' "
But then the officers pushed him down onto his side and placed him on his stomach.
"Proning him was completely unnecessary, and this is where the excessive force begins," Schleicher said. "They didn't just lay him prone. They didn't do that. They stayed on top of him."
Chauvin, who chose to exercise his right and not testify in his defense, kept his eyes down as the prosecutor played an officer's body camera video of Floyd being forced onto his side on the street.
Schleicher then went after the defense's case that various factors were the primary reasons for Floyd's death, among them a heart attack, health problems, illicit drugs and possibly carbon monoxide from a nearby squad car.
He said it would be "an amazing coincidence [that] he chose at that moment to die of heart disease. ... Is that common sense or is that nonsense?" At the same time, he reminded the jurors, that the defense's list of possibilities can still be contributing factors and not negate Chauvin being guilty.
Nearly an hour into his outline of the prosecution's case, Schleicher turned to the medical evidence and the experts who supported that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen and that he did not die from what the defense suggested with its witnesses.
"It wasn't cardiac arrest," he said. "It wasn't a drug overdose. You know how George Floyd died. It was the low level of oxygen, it was the asphyxia that caused him to die" as he was pressed against the pavement by Chauvin and two fellow officers.
Schleicher said, "He did not die of excited delirium. ... There are no superhumans."
The prosecutor used the defense's medical expert against Chauvin, noting that "even Dr. [David] Fowler was critical" under cross examination last week that neither the defendant nor anyone else gave Floyd medical care.
When Schleicher played a few seconds of the viral bystander video showing Chauvin's knee on Floyd's neck, the former officer did not look up. Schleicher showed some autopsy pictures of George's face, shoulders and knuckle scraped from pavement. Chauvin looked up quickly at first then down again.
As the prosecutor went through the second- and third-degree murder charges and what needs or does not need to be proven, he said, "The dangers of prone restraint have been known for about 30 years. The defendant's actions created a high-risk of death."
Despite the pleadings of bystanders and the suggestion from a fellow officer to roll Floyd on his side, Chauvin was unwavering, Schleicher said.
"The motto of the Minneapolis Police Department is to protect with courage, to serve with compassion," the prosecutor said. "George Floyd was not a threat to anyone, he wasn't trying to hurt anyone. He wasn't trying to do anything to anyone. Facing George Floyd that day did not require one ounce of courage, and none was shown. No courage was required. All that was required was a little compassion, and none was shown on that day.
While guiding the jurors through the manslaughter count, Scheicher noted the "indifference" displayed by Chauvin and the other officers. They picked a rock out the squad car tire near Floyd's head, complained about the smell of Floyd's feet. "His negligence includes his failure to act," the prosecutor said.
Schleicher spelled out how Floyd posed no threat and then played back Chauvin's bodycam video that included him saying to a witness that he kept Floyd on the pavement because was a big man and possibly high on drugs.
"Being large and being on something is not a justification for a use of force," he said. "The defendant's entire basis, this explanation to Charles McMillian after he got up off Mr. Floyd, tossed him on the gurney and walked away like he was nothing, that was his explanation."
He added that what Chauvin did was "not procedure. It's not the use of force procedure. It's not following the rules."
In his closing argument, Nelson said that "throughout the course of this trial the state has focused your attention on 9 minutes and 29 seconds," the amount of time his client had Floyd pinned to the pavement. Nelson said jurors must use "proper analysis" and only consider that span of time in "totality of the circumstances" of the incident, staring with the 911 dispatch call.
Other considerations for Chauvin at the scene included the safety of other officers, bystanders and Floyd, Nelson added. Chauvin also had to consider being in a part of the city known to be a crime hot spot, along with information from dispatch that Floyd was a much larger man than himself who was possibly under the influence of drugs. Chauvin also had to take into account that the two officers who initially answered the call were rookies on the force.
Nelson elaborated on the witnesses nearby and how they grew more agitated and distracted Chauvin at a critical moment from the restraint he was placing on Floyd.
Three things happened almost simultaneously, Nelson said: Floyd takes his last breath, Chauvin pulls his mace and shakes it out of concern about the bystanders, and Hansen "walks in from behind at the time, startling him."
All of that, the defense attorney said, "change Officer Chauvin's perception of what was happening" and then followed his training by not providing CPR to Floyd.
Turning his attention to Floyd's cause of death, Nelson accused the prosecution of ignoring the findings of the autopsy pointing to contributing factors and arguing that lack of oxygen alone killed Floyd.
Therefore, the state must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Floyd's heart disease, hypertension, a tumor and drug use played no role in death, Nelson told the jurors.
He said answers from five state expert witnesses "fly in the face" of common sense if you consider the finding of county medical examiner Baker, the only person to perform an autopsy, that Floyd died of asphyxia.
The prosecution "did not like Dr. Baker's conclusions," Nelson said.
Once in deliberations, the jurors' first task was to select a foreperson. They have a laptop computer and monitor to review the substantial amount of video and other exhibits presented over the past few weeks. What they won't have is a transcript of the testimony. Instead, the jurors must rely on their collective notes and memories.
Jurors are likely to have questions for the court during deliberations. Rather than have the jury return to the courtroom for an answer, this communication will be done by video conference out of caution amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Deliberations for this case are being done at an undisclosed location, presumably not in the Hennepin County Government Center.
The jurors will remain sequestered throughout their deliberations and until the verdicts are read in court before a worldwide livestream audience.
Three other fired officers who assisted in Floyd being restrained stomach-down for more than 9 minutes — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — are scheduled to be tried in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.