A jury resumed deliberations Tuesday in the high-profile trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
After hearing closing arguments Monday, the 12-member jury – comprising six white people and six people who are Black or multiracial -- met for four hours as they began the process of working toward a verdict.
During Monday’s final arguments, a prosecutor accused Chauvin, who is white, of killing Floyd, an African American, by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. A defense attorney, Eric Nelson, 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 the curb of a street in Minneapolis.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher summed up the case against Chauvin, who held down the handcuffed Floyd as Floyd 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 nine 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.”
“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.
Floyd was suspected of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a nearby convenience store.
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.
Chauvin pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. If convicted, he faces up to 40 years in prison.
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 presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Trial judge Peter Cahill told the jury not to draw any inference on Chauvin’s innocence or guilt from his declining to testify.
After dismissing the jury Monday, Cahill criticized Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who is Black and a member of Congress since 1991, for recent remarks regarding the trial. Waters told protesters in Minnesota to “stay on the street” and to become “more active” and “more confrontational” if Chauvin is found not guilty.
“I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that’s disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function,” Cahill said.
Despite Cahill’s plea, U.S. President Joe Biden Tuesday described the evidence against Chauvin as overwhelming.
“I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict,” Biden said during an Oval Office meeting with Latino lawmakers. “I think it’s overwhelming in my view. I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now.”
As the case nears its end, authorities in Minneapolis are bracing 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.
“We cannot allow civil unrest to descend into chaos. We must protect life and property,” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said Monday. “But we also must understand very clearly, if we don’t listen to those communities in pain and those people on the streets, many of whom were arrested for speaking a fundamental truth that we must change, or we will be right back here again.”
Protests, some of them violent, broke out in many cities in the United States and throughout the world after Floyd’s death. 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.