MINNEAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) — Closing arguments will begin Monday in the trial of the former Minneapolis officer charged in the death of George Floyd after three weeks filled with countless surveillance videos, emotional testimony and medical experts.
Derek Chauvin’s brief defense wrapped up last week with Chauvin passing on a chance to take the stand. Chauvin informed the court that he would not testify Thursday, saying he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right.
Chauvin is charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 25 death, following an arrest that happened on suspicion Floyd used a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a convenience store. The most serious charge, the second-degree murder count, carries up to 40 years in prison. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was declared dead after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes. Bystander video footage shows Chauvin pressing his knee into a handcuffed Floyd’s neck, with Floyd repeatedly claiming that he could not breathe. Floyd’s death sparked protests and civil unrest in Minneapolis and across the U.S. over police brutality, at points turning violent.
NOTABLE MOMENTS FROM THE TRIAL
The prosecution called two weeks’ worth of witness to the stand whereas the defense only used two days of testimony before resting its case.
Law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training, while medical experts said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down.
Notably, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified that Chauvin, 45, broke the department’s rules and ethics code.
George Floyd’s brother broke down on the witness stand last week as he was shown a picture of his late mother and a young George during the trial.
“He was one of those people in the community that when they had church outside, people would attend church just because he was there,” Philonise Floyd said. “Nobody would go out there until they seen him. And he just was like a person that everybody loved around the community. He — he just knew how to make people feel better.”
Prosecutors used a legal doctrine called “spark of life” to call his brother to testify about Floyd’s life, and previously used it to call Courtney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend to the stand. Ross testified about her romance with Floyd and how an addiction to painkillers took hold of their life together. Minnesota is a rarity in explicitly permitting such “spark of life” testimony ahead of a verdict. Defense attorneys often complain that such testimony allows prosecutors to play on jurors’ emotions.
The defense said Floyd put himself at risk by swallowing fentanyl and methamphetamine, then resisted officers trying to arrest him — factors that compounded his vulnerability to a diseased heart and hoped to raise sufficient doubt enough that Chauvin should be acquitted.
Lawyers for Chauvin began presenting their case at the start of the third week of testimony by calling to the stand a now-retired officer who pulled over a car in which Floyd was a passenger in 2019 – a year before his deadly encounter with Chauvin.
The testimony, accompanied by body camera video of the incident, was intended to show the jury what effects the ingestion of opioids may have had on Floyd.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
Barry Brodd, a private consultant in the use of force by law enforcement, said Chauvin was following his training, given that he was dealing with a tense and fluid situation.
“I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified, and was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement, in his interactions with Mr. Floyd,” he said.
Guilty verdicts must be unanimous, which means Nelson needs to raise doubt in the minds of just a single juror on the various counts.
DECISION IN JURY’S HANDS
The case is expected in the jury’s hands for deliberation sometime Monday after closing arguments. They will be sequestered at a hotel in a city whose downtown is filled with National Guard troops and boarded-up windows, preparing for potential unrest.
“If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short,” Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill told jurors on the question of how much to pack.
With the trial in session, Minneapolis has been bracing for a possible repeat of the protests and violence that broke out last spring over Floyd’s death.
The racially diverse jury will begin deliberating at a barbed-wire-ringed courthouse in a city on edge — not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man in a Minneapolis suburb a little over a week ago. Unrest and potential protests are expected.
Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered outside the heavily guarded Brooklyn Center police station in the days since the shooting. Protesters have shouted profanities, launched fireworks, shaken a security fence surrounding the building and lobbed water bottles at officers. Police have driven away protesters with tear gas grenades, rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and long lines of riot police.
Minneapolis Public Schools will move students back to remote learning Wednesday through Friday in anticipation of a verdict and potential unrest.
Floyd’s death last summer sparked protests and civil unrest in Minneapolis and across the U.S. over police brutality, at points turning violent.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.