George Floyd: Jury deliberates on murder charges against Derek Chauvin

Closing statements finish on murder and manslaughter charges against former officer

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The murder case against former police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd went to the jury on Monday in a city facing another period of unrest.

The jury of six white and six black or multiracial members was sent to begin deliberating after nearly a full day of closing arguments in which prosecutors said Mr Chauvin squeezed the life out Floyd last May in a way that even a child knew was wrong.

The defence contended that the former white officer acted reasonably and that Floyd, 46, a black man, died of an underlying heart condition and illegal drug use.

Mr Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

All three charges require the jury to conclude that his actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death and that his use of force was unreasonable.

The most serious charge carries up to 40 years in prison.

“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” Steve Schleicher said, referring to the bystander video of Floyd.

It showed him pinned to the pavement with Mr Chauvin’s knee on or close to his neck last May for up to nine minutes and 29 seconds, as bystanders yelled at the officer to get off.

His lawyer, Eric Nelson, said Mr Chauvin did what any “reasonable” police officer would have done after finding himself in a “dynamic” and “fluid” situation involving a large man struggling with three police officers.

As Mr Nelson began speaking, Mr Chauvin removed his Covid-19 mask in front of the jury for one of the very few times during the trial.

The arguments were under way with Minneapolis on edge against a repeat of the violence that erupted in the city, the US and around the world over Floyd’s death.

The defence contends not only that Mr Chauvin acted reasonably, but that Floyd died of underlying heart disease and his illegal use of fentanyl and methamphetamine.

Mr Nelson said officers who first responded to the corner shop where Floyd allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill were already struggling with him when Mr Chauvin arrived as back-up.

The defence said the first two officers on the scene were rookies and that police had been told that Floyd might be on drugs.

“A reasonable police officer understands the intensity of the struggle,” Mr Nelson said.

He said that Mr Chauvin’s body camera and police badge were knocked off his chest.

Under the law, police officers are given certain latitude to use force.

Their actions are supposed to be judged according to what a “reasonable officer” in the same situation would have done – a point the defence stressed repeatedly.

During prosecution arguments, Mr Schleicher replayed portions of the video and other footage as he dismissed some of the defence theories about Floyd’s death as “nonsense”, saying Mr Chauvin killed Floyd by constricting his breathing.

He rejected the drug overdose argument, the contention that police were distracted by what they saw as hostile onlookers, the notion that Floyd had “superhuman” strength from a state of agitation known as excited delirium, and the suggestion that he suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from car exhausts.

The prosecutor sarcastically referred to the idea that it was heart disease that killed Floyd as an “amazing coincidence".

“Is that common sense or is that nonsense?” Mr Schleicher asked the jury.

He described how Mr Chauvin ignored Floyd's cries that he could not breathe and continued to kneel on Floyd after he stopped drawing breath and had no pulse, even after the ambulance arrived.

Mr Chauvin was “on top of him for nine minutes and 29 seconds and he had to know,” Schleicher said. “He had to know.”

He said Mr Chauvin “heard him but he just didn’t listen".

The prosecutor further argued that Floyd was “not a threat to anyone” and was not trying to escape.

Instead, Mr Schleicher said, he was terrified of being put into the tiny back seat of the squad car when he struggled with officers.

He said a reasonable officer with Mr Chauvin’s training and experience – he was a 19-year Minneapolis police veteran – should have sized up the situation accurately.

Gianna Floyd, 6, looks on outside the Hennepin County Government Center during the closing statements in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is facing murder charges in the death of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., April 19, 2021. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

Mr Chauvin, wearing a light grey suit with a blue shirt and blue tie, showed little expression as he watched himself and the other officers pinning Floyd to the ground on video played by his lawyer.

He cocked his head to the side and occasionally leaned forward to write on a notepad.

An unidentified woman occupied the single seat set aside in the pandemic-spaced courtroom for a Chauvin supporter.

Floyd’s brother Philonise represented the family in court, as he often has throughout the trial.

Mr Schleicher said Mr Chauvin was required to use his training to provide medical care to Floyd but ignored bystanders, rebuffed help from an off-duty paramedic and rejected a suggestion from another officer to roll Floyd on to his side.

“He could have listened to the bystanders," he said. "He could have listened to fellow officers. He could have listened to his own training. He knew better. He just didn’t do better."

Mr Schleicher said that even a nine-year-old bystander knew it was dangerous.

“Conscious indifference, indifference. Do you want to know what indifference is and sounds like?” Mr Schleicher asked before playing a video of Mr Chauvin replying “uh-huh” several times as Floyd cried out.

The prosecution took about an hour and 45 minutes to make its case, with Mr Schleicher ending his address by saying: “This wasn’t policing. This was murder.”

Mr Nelson, in his closing argument, played portions of bystander video that showed increasingly agitated onlookers shouting for Mr Chauvin to get off Floyd’s neck.

He said officers may have determined it was not safe to give medical aid to Floyd in that environment.

Mr Nelson described what he called a critical moment: Floyd took his last breath, Mr Chauvin reacted to the crowd by taking out his Mace and threatening to use force, and the off-duty paramedic walked up behind Mr Chauvin, startling him.

“All of these facts and circumstances simultaneously occur at a critical moment," he said. "And that changed Officer Chauvin’s perception of what was happening.

“I cannot, in my opinion, understate the importance of this moment.”

The courthouse is surrounded by concrete barriers and razor wire in a city heavily fortified by National Guard members.

Deliberations began days after a new round of unrest over the police killing of black man Daunte Wright, 20, in a nearby suburb. Some businesses boarded up their storefronts with plywood.

Second-degree intentional murder carries up to 40 years in prison, third-degree murder 25 years and second-degree manslaughter 10 years.

Sentencing guidelines call for far less time, including 12.5 years on either murder count.