A jury is set to hear final arguments on Monday in the trial of the white former police officer accused of murdering African-American George Floyd, a case that revealed racial injuries in the United States and has come to be seen as a crucial test of police responsibility.
Derek Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge – second-degree murder.
Chauvin was seen on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the 46-year-old black man lay handcuffed face down on the street, complaining that he “could not breathe”.
The scary video, which was repeatedly shown to the jury during Chauvin’s three-week trial, sparked protests against racial error and police brutality around the world.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, said at the start of the trial that there was “no political or social issue” in the courtroom, but it has coincided with growing tensions from two other high-profile police murders.
Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man, was shot dead in a Minneapolis suburb on April 11 by a white policewoman who apparently misunderstood her gun for her Taser, and a 13-year-old boy was killed by Chicago police.
Wright’s death triggered several nights of protests in Minneapolis, and before a verdict in Chauvin’s case, National Guard troops have been deployed in the city of Minnesota where shop windows have been boarded up as a precaution.
With high tensions as a possible verdict approaches, two guard members were easily injured after at least one person opened fire from a car on a team of troops and police early Sunday in Minneapolis, authorities said.
“The result we are asking for in Derek Chauvin is that he be held criminally responsible for killing George Floyd,” said Ben Crump, a lawyer for the Floyd and Wright families.
“Killing unarmed black people is unacceptable,” Crump told ABC News on Sunday. “We have to send that message to the police.
“Hold police accountable.”
‘It was not right’
Among the 38 witnesses who testified at the indictment were some of the spectators who saw Floyd’s arrest on May 25, 2020, for using a counterfeit $ 20 bill to buy a pack of cigarettes.
Darnella Frazier, the teenager who took the video that went viral, said Floyd was “scared” and “begging for her life.”
“It was not right. He was suffering,” Frazier said.
Genevieve Hansen, 27, a firefighter who is not on duty, said Chauvin and other officers rejected her offers to provide Floyd with medical care.
Donald Williams, 33, said he called 911 to report a “murder” after Floyd was taken away in an ambulance.
Chauvin attended the trial every day, dressed in a suit and taking notes on a yellow legal pad.
He spoke only once – and that was from the jury’s presence – when he invoked his fifth right of amendment not to testify in his own defense.
David Schultz, a lawyer at the University of Minnesota and Hamline University, said he was not surprised by Chauvin’s decision.
“The chances that he would help himself would probably not be too good,” Schultz said.
“I can imagine a scenario where the prosecutor would play that tape in nine minutes and 29 seconds and ask Derek Chauvin what he was thinking when George Floyd said he could not breathe.”
Much of the evidentiary phase of the trial involved testimony from medical experts about Floyd’s cause of death and whether Chauvin had used reasonable or excessive force.
A retired forensic pathologist who was put on the stand by the defense said Floyd died of cardiac arrest caused by heart disease and the illegal drugs fentanyl and methamphetamine.
Medical experts accused by the prosecutor said that Floyd died of hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, from Chauvin’s knee in the neck and that medication was not a factor.
‘Strong judicial authority’
The defense also called a retired police officer who said Chauvin’s use of force against Floyd was “justified.”
Police officers testifying for the indictment – including the city’s police chief – said it was excessive and unnecessary.
Schultz, a law professor, said the state had presented a strong case.
“They had to overcome the barrier to prosecute police,” he said. “Police have strong legal authority to use force.”
A conviction for any of the charges – second-degree murder, third-degree murder or murder – will require the jury to return with a unanimous verdict.
Shultz said the defense, which called only seven witnesses, “might hope to just persuade a jury member to get a hanging jury.”
The racially varying jury consists of six white women, three black men, three white men, two women of mixed race and one black woman.
Two jurors will be acquitted by Judge Peter Cahill after closing arguments and the other 12 will be bound for deliberations.
Three other former police officers – Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng – are also facing charges in connection with Floyd’s death.
They will be tested separately later in the year.