Jurors in the Derek Chauvin murder trial prepared to begin deliberations on Monday night after closing arguments in the high-profile trial into the killing of George Floyd concluded. Mr Chauvin, who is charged with murder for kneeling on the neck of Mr Floyd in May last year, could face up to 40 years in prison if convicted.
On the final day of the trial on Monday, lawyers for both sides presented their closing arguments.
Counsel for the state, Steve Schleicher, argued that Mr Chauvin’s actions were not the actions of a police officer.
“What the defendant did was not policing. What the defendant did was an assault,” he said, arguing that it was Mr Chauvin as an individual, not the police force itself, that was on trial.
“This was not policing” and “it was unnecessary”, he said.
He also focused on the prosecution’s core piece of evidence – the video of Mr Floyd’s death, which was captured on the cell phone of a passerby.
“Believe your eyes. What you saw happened, happened. It happened,” he said.
In the afternoon, Mr Chauvin’s attorney summarised the defence case that was presented last week.
Attorney for Mr Chauvin Eric Nelson stressed that the jury needed to believe that the defendant was guilty beyond “reasonable doubt”.
“The state has the burden of proving each and every element beyond reasonable doubt … If they are missing any one single element … it is a not guilty verdict.”
Proof of intent
He said that two of the three charges against Mr Chauvin – second-degree and third-degree murder – depended on proof of “intent”, as he argued that the former police officer was working within the rules set out in the police policy manual, which he quoted from. Prosecutors later queried this line of questioning after the defence concluded, asking the judge to read a clarification to the jury about the notion of “intent”, but this was denied by the judge.
Mr Nelson suggested that Mr Chauvin was using “reasonable force in the line of duty” when he detained Mr Floyd, and that the jury should not just focus on the nine minutes and 29 seconds that showed his death but video of what went before, during his arrest.
He reiterated some of the key arguments of the defence – that the victim’s death was not a result of asphyxia but was caused by the condition of the victim’s heart and the presence of some drugs in his system. He also repeated claims that carbon monoxide from the police car beside Mr Floyd as he was restrained on the ground contributed to his death.
“I would suggest that it is nonsense to suggest that none of these other factors had any role.”
“The state has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and therefore Mr Chauvin should be found not guilty of all counts,” Mr Nelson said as he concluded his closing argument.
Jerry Blackwell, for the prosecution, as he presented the final rebuttal of the defence’s closing argument, appealed to the jury’s “common sense”.
“It is actually quite simple … You can believe your eyes… It was what you saw, it was homicide.”
Mr Chauvin, who was again present in court for the final day of his trial, is facing charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He denies the charges against him. A conviction of second-degree murder could lead to a sentence of up to 40 years in prison, third-degree murder could result in a 25-year prison sentence, while the maximum prison time for a second-degree manslaughter conviction is 10 years under Minnesota state law.
A unanimous verdict is needed to convict the defendant on any or all three of the charges.