Author John Eligon
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News
MINNEAPOLIS — Hearing the prosecution’s medical experts, one after the next, testify that a lack of oxygen killed George Floyd was already enough to convince Lisa Christensen that Derek Chauvin was guilty of murder.
Then the defense witnesses took to the stand — and they only solidified her confidence in the prosecution’s case.
When one of them, Barry Brodd, a police expert, suggested that someone could rest comfortably in the prone position, face down on the pavement, he lost her, Ms. Christensen said. Then came the defense’s medical expert, Dr. David Fowler, Maryland’s former chief medical examiner. She did not buy his explanation that a combination of drugs, pre-existing medical conditions and even carbon monoxide were to blame for Mr. Floyd’s death.
“I just don’t think it was real believable,” Ms. Christensen said of the defense’s case. “The prosecutors were true to their opening statements. They said in their opening statements, ‘Believe your eyes. What you see, you can believe.’ And for me, that was true.”
Ms. Christensen, 56, had a rare view of the trial of Mr. Chauvin: She was one of 14 jurors selected to serve on the case.
For three weeks she sat anonymously in a courtroom on the 18th floor of a courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, referred to only as Juror 96 as she listened to 45 witnesses and the arguments of the lawyers in one of the most consequential police killing cases the country has ever seen.
Ultimately, she did not get to help decide Mr. Chauvin’s fate. Once all the testimony and arguments had wrapped up, the judge, Peter A. Cahill, told her and another juror that they were the alternates. So they were sent home while the remaining 12 were sequestered in a hotel room to deliberate.
But in an interview on Thursday, it seemed like Ms. Christensen’s view of the case aligned with the rest of the jury, which took just 10 hours to convict Mr. Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer, of all three charges he faced in the killing of Mr. Floyd, a Black man, including second-degree murder.
None of the jurors who deliberated and decided Mr. Chauvin’s fate have chosen to speak out, so Ms. Christensen’s description of how she saw the trial is the only insight yet provided into how members of the jury perceived the case.
Ms. Christensen, who said she entered the trial having seen very little of the gruesome video of Mr. Floyd’s murder, described an experience that was more taxing than she could have imagined. It was filled with unexpected twists, from the mundane — a mini-crisis when the Cheetos ran out in the jury room — to the extraordinary, when the police killed a 20-year-old man six blocks from her home in the suburb of Brooklyn Center, Minn., during the trial.
“It was more emotional and more draining than I thought,” she said of her jury service.
Very little was ordinary about this trial. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, very few people were allowed in the courtroom. And because of the high-profile nature of the case, jurors were anonymous and had to be shuttled in and out of the courthouse as discreetly as possible.
Before court each day, jurors convened at meeting places outside of Minneapolis, depending on where they lived, Ms. Christensen said. Her meeting spot was behind a sheriff’s outpost in Brooklyn Park. (The other gathering points were at sheriff’s facilities in Plymouth and Golden Valley, and a public works facility in Bloomington, she said.)
The jurors would load into vans with out-of-state license plates that would drive them to the courthouse’s underground parking lot, within an area fortified by temporary fencing.
Ms. Christensen, who is white, said that while she felt that Mr. Chauvin was in the wrong, she did not view the case through the larger prism of racial justice. She believes that there is a problem with racism in the country, but said she was not well versed on the nuances of it.
She recently got into a dispute with her roommate, who is Black, when she asked him why Mr. Floyd and other people don’t just comply with police commands. “Several times they had to say, ‘Get out of the car’ or ‘Put your hands on the steering wheel.’ And for whatever reason, he just didn’t do it.” But she said that even if she did not understand Mr. Floyd’s resistance, he was treated improperly by the officers.
Her feelings were solidified during the testimony of Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a pulmonologist called by the prosecution. He gave a detailed explanation of how humans breathe, even instructing the jurors to feel different parts of their throat and neck as he testified. He also analyzed Mr. Floyd’s breathing from a video that showed Mr. Chauvin kneeling on his neck.
“He pointed out exactly when Mr. Floyd took his last breath,” she said. “So that was powerful. And then I feel like all the doctors that the prosecutors presented pretty much said the same thing in so many different ways. I feel like they all came to the same conclusion.”
Asked if there was a moment when she doubted the prosecution’s case and thought that maybe Mr. Chauvin was not guilty, Ms. Christensen was unequivocal: “No.”
If the medical experts were decisive for her regarding Mr. Floyd’s cause of death, Ms. Christensen said testimony from bystanders helped her to understand how out of line Mr. Chauvin was. Sitting close to the witness box, she teared up at times when witnesses cried as they recalled seeing the life slowly pressed out of Mr. Floyd. One moment in particular that got to her, Ms. Christensen said, was when a girl on the stand fought back tears, but her chin quivered.
“I was hearing what they were saying, but I also felt it,” she said. “I could feel the guilt. I could feel their pain.”
The bystanders did not seem like an angry mob to her, as Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer suggested, Ms. Christensen said. Rather, they seemed to have more awareness of the situation than Mr. Chauvin and the three other officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s fatal arrest.
“How can all these different people stand on the sidewalk and notice there is something wrong in this situation — I mean, even a 9-year-old could tell you something was wrong,” she said. “How come grown officers, that this is your profession, you’ve had multiple hours of being trained, that you guys can’t tell there’s something wrong?”
Ms. Christensen said she felt that Eric J. Nelson, Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, had made good points about what a “reasonable officer” would do as he explained his client’s actions in the nearly 17 minutes leading up to the moment that he took Mr. Floyd to the ground and knelt on him. But it seemed like he could offer no good explanation for Mr. Chauvin’s actions in the nine minutes and 29 seconds he knelt on Mr. Floyd, she said.
And she did not believe that Mr. Chauvin could have explained it away, so she said it was probably a good idea that he did not testify on his own behalf.
“I don’t think he comes across as like a likable kind of guy,” she said. “And maybe that’s just because we’ve seen the video so many times and that picture. Him sitting in the courtroom, he just gave off a cold vibe.”