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Inside the Derek Chauvin Jury Room: 11 of 12 Jurors Were Ready to Convict Right Away

Author: Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

Seated at tables six feet apart in a hotel conference room, 12 jurors scribbled letters on slips of paper to indicate how they were leaning on a murder charge against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer on trial for killing George Floyd.

When the jury foreman tallied the votes that morning, one of the jurors recalled, there were 11 papers with a “G” written on them — guilty. One paper said “U,” for unsure.

The seven women and five men spent the next few hours poring over the evidence in one of the most closely watched trials in a generation, according to Brandon Mitchell, who has been the only juror to publicly describe the deliberations last week near Minneapolis. Mr. Mitchell said the jurors watched the graphic videos of Mr. Floyd’s death, discussed the testimony of many of the witnesses and experts, and created their own timeline using markers and a whiteboard. By lunchtime, Mr. Mitchell said, the juror who had been unsure, a white woman, had made up her mind: Mr. Chauvin was guilty of all charges.

Mr. Mitchell, 31, a high school basketball coach in Minneapolis, described the deliberations in an interview on Thursday, shedding light on what had happened inside the jury room before the jurors convicted Mr. Chauvin on two murder charges and a manslaughter charge.

Mr. Mitchell said he was excited when he was chosen for the jury and glad to see that the jury was diverse; there were four Black jurors, including Mr. Mitchell, as well as six white jurors and two multiracial jurors. They ranged in age from their 20s to their 60s.

“The pressure, I was ready to embrace it,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Whichever way the verdict went — guilty or not guilty — it was important for me as a Black man to be in the room.”

He said he had expected, before the trial, that he would struggle to come to the right decision in the case, but that after three weeks of testimony, he found the evidence overwhelming.

“I had no doubt in my mind,” Mr. Mitchell said of his decision about Mr. Chauvin’s guilt. Jurors discussed the case for about seven hours over two days before reaching a verdict on the afternoon of April 20, Mr. Mitchell said. They spent much of the first evening of deliberations getting to know one another rather than talking about the case, he said.

Mr. Chauvin, the white officer who was videotaped kneeling on the neck of Mr. Floyd, a Black security guard, for more than nine minutes last May, is scheduled to be sentenced in June and could face decades in prison.

Immediately following closing arguments in the trial on April 19, jurors gathered in a conference room at the hotel where they were sequestered and surrendered their phones for deliberations, Mr. Mitchell said. They took a vote on whether to keep their masks on during deliberations (they chose, unanimously, to take them off), and soon moved to discussing the evidence and the law.

They first considered second-degree manslaughter, the least serious of the charges Mr. Chauvin was facing, and the juror who would later indicate uncertainty about murder said she was unsure about the manslaughter charge, Mr. Mitchell said. Sitting at individual tables that were placed in a U-shape, the jurors took turns describing their thoughts. The jurors decided to wait until the second day of deliberations to discuss the murder charges, but dinner did not arrive for several more hours, so they made small talk instead, chatting about their jobs and children.

At 6:45 the next morning, deputies knocked on each of their hotel doors to wake them up for breakfast and a second day of deliberations, Mr. Mitchell said.

As the jurors considered the murder charges, Mr. Mitchell said, they focused at one point on the exact cause of Mr. Floyd’s death. Many jurors said they believed the prosecutors’ version of what had happened — that Mr. Chauvin’s knee had caused Mr. Floyd’s death — but at least one juror who supported a conviction said she could not be sure that Mr. Chauvin’s knee had been the cause. Still, Mr. Mitchell recalled, the juror said she believed that the former officer was nonetheless responsible because he had continued to pin Mr. Floyd down even after he lost consciousness and never provided medical aid.

After several hours of discussions over a third-degree murder charge, all of the jurors said they favored a conviction, Mr. Mitchell said, and after another half an hour, they had agreed on a second-degree murder conviction as well.

Jurors decided to wait until after lunch to fill out the forms that would make their decision official, Mr. Mitchell said.

“We didn’t want to rush,” he said. “We took a pause to soak it in and say, ‘This is what we’re about to do.’”

Shortly before 2 p.m., they alerted deputies that they had reached a verdict and were rushed from the hotel to the courtroom, where Judge Peter A. Cahill read the verdict.

Mr. Mitchell said that for many of the jurors, including himself, the most powerful witness testimony had come from Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a lung expert who pinpointed what he said was the exact moment that Mr. Floyd took his final breath.

“He just had all of our attention 100 percent,” Mr. Mitchell said of Dr. Tobin, who testified for the prosecution. “I don’t know if there is any other witness that captured us like that.”

Mr. Mitchell said he found the defense team’s case to be weak, lacking in revelatory testimony that might poke holes in the prosecution’s case.

“I was waiting for a moment that was going to be climactic like ‘Wow!’ — a ‘Boom! Aha!’ moment — and it just never happened,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Nothing ever hit. It was kind of deflating. It made the case easy.”

Judge Cahill has said that the jurors’ identities will be kept secret until at least October, though they are free to speak publicly if they choose to. One of the two alternate jurors, who attended the trial but was excused before deliberations began, has spoken publicly, saying she never doubted that Mr. Chauvin was guilty.

Throughout the trial, the jurors referred to one another only by their juror numbers — Mr. Mitchell was No. 52 — until they began deliberations and shared their names. Mr. Mitchell said he and the other jurors made tentative plans to get together for drinks in the summer or the fall, when the case is no longer drawing as much attention.

Mr. Mitchell said that in the weeks after Mr. Floyd’s death, he had been determined not to watch the video of Mr. Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, but had seen some of it when it began playing automatically on a social media feed.

As protests engulfed Minneapolis following Mr. Floyd’s death, Mr. Mitchell, who lived downtown, said he had frequently discussed the killing with high school students on the teams he coached to help them express the anger and sadness they felt. He said that he found the protests warranted and necessary, and that he hoped they would lead to change.

“I just want to see police be more compassionate when it comes to Black men, instead of moving with such aggression,” he said.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Who Are the Jurors in the Derek Chauvin Trial?

More than 300 potential jurors filled out a 14-page questionnaire[1] that asked about their views on policing, protests, race and criminal justice, among other questions, and their answers showed the hurdles the defense must overcome in a case about which so much is widely known. Lawyers for the defense and the prosecution then questioned potential jurors one on one.

At least 10 of the 15 jurors and alternates chosen indicated that they had already formed a “somewhat negative” opinion of Mr. Chauvin. (The third alternate was dismissed on Monday.) But their views were nuanced — several said they had positive views of the police, but also believed that the criminal justice system was biased against Black people.

Juror No. 92, a white woman in her 40s, wrote on a questionnaire that she had a “very favorable” opinion of Blue Lives Matter. “I would be terrified if our police departments were dismantled,” she wrote, according to what the defense lawyer read aloud during jury selection. “However, it is obvious that change needs to happen.”

Many of the jurors expressed dismay over what had happened to Mr. Floyd or questioned the actions of the four officers involved, three of whom will face charges in a separate trial. Juror No. 27, a Black man in his 30s, wrote that Mr. Floyd “could have been me or anyone else,” according to the answers that the defense read back to him during questioning. No. 52, also a Black man in his 30s, wrote, “My opinion has been, why didn’t the other officers stop Chauvin?”

Juror No. 89, the nurse, said that since Mr. Floyd had died she would have to conclude that the police had knelt on him for “too long.” No. 44, a white executive at a health care nonprofit, said, “I do not know the laws and procedures of the police for detainment, but a man died and I’m sure that’s not procedure.”

The jurors said they could set their opinions and knowledge aside and consider only the evidence presented.

References

  1. ^ 14-page questionnaire (www.nytimes.com)

Shaila Dewan and Tim Arango

Jurors shown witness video at ex-officer's trial in George Floyd's death

MINNEAPOLIS — The video of George Floyd gasping for breath was essentially Exhibit A as the former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee on the Black man’s neck went on trial Monday on charges of murder and manslaughter.Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell showed the jurors the footage at the earliest opportunity, during opening statements, after telling them that the number to remember was 9 minutes, 29 seconds – the amount of time officer Derek Chauvin had Floyd pinned to the pavement last May.

The white officer “didn’t let up” even after a handcuffed Floyd said 27 times that he couldn’t breathe and went limp, Blackwell said in the case that triggered worldwide protests, scattered violence and national soul-searching over racial justice.”He put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath — no, ladies and gentlemen — until the very life was squeezed out of him,” the prosecutor said.

Watch opening statements from prosecution, defense in Derek Chauvin trial

Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson countered by arguing: “Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career.”

Floyd was fighting efforts to put him in a squad car as the crowd of onlookers around Chauvin and his fellow officers grew and became increasingly hostile, Nelson said.

The defense attorney also disputed that Chauvin was to blame for Floyd’s death.

Floyd, 46, had none of the telltale signs of asphyxiation and had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, Nelson said. He said Floyd’s drug use, combined with his heart disease, high blood pressure and the adrenaline flowing through his body, caused a heart rhythm disturbance that killed him.

“There is no political or social cause in this courtroom,” Nelson said. “But the evidence is far greater than 9 minutes and 29 seconds.”

RELATED: What we know about the jury in George Floyd death trial[1]

Blackwell, however, rejected the argument that Floyd’s drug use or any underlying health conditions were to blame, saying it was the officer’s knee that killed him.

Chauvin, 45, is charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. The most serious charge, the second-degree murder count, carries up to 40 years in prison. This is the first trial ever televised in Minnesota.Bystander Donald Williams, who said he was trained in mixed martial arts, including chokeholds, testified that Chauvin appeared to increase the pressure on Floyd’s neck several times with a shimmying motion. He said he yelled to the officer that he was cutting off Floyd’s blood supply.

Williams recalled that Floyd’s voice grew thicker as his breathing became more labored, and he eventually stopped moving. He said he saw Floyd’s eyes roll back in his head, likening the sight to fish he had caught earlier that day.

Williams said he saw Floyd “slowly fade away … like the fish in the bag.”

WATCH: Family remembers George Floyd at Minneapolis funeral service

Earlier, Minneapolis police dispatcher Jena Scurry testified that she saw part of Floyd’s arrest unfolding via a city surveillance camera and was so disturbed that she called a duty sergeant. Scurry said she grew concerned because the officers hadn’t moved after several minutes.

“You can call me a snitch if you want to,” Scurry said in her call to the sergeant, which was played in court. She said she wouldn’t normally call the sergeant about the use of force because it was beyond the scope of her duties, but “my instincts were telling me that something is wrong.”

The video played during opening statements was posted to Facebook by a bystander who witnessed Floyd being arrested after he was accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $ 20 bill at a convenience store. The footage caused revulsion across the U.S. and beyond and prompted calls for the country to confront racism and police brutality.

Jurors watched intently as the video played on multiple screens, with one drawing a sharp breath as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin sat calmly during opening statements and took notes, looking up at the video periodically.

“My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts,” Floyd says in the video, and: “I can’t breathe, officer.” Onlookers repeatedly shout at the officer to get off Floyd, saying he is not moving, breathing or resisting. One woman, identifying herself as a city Fire Department employee, shouts at Chauvin to check Floyd’s pulse.

The prosecutor said the case was “not about split-second decision-making” by a police officer but excessive force against someone who was handcuffed and not resisting.

Blackwell said the Fire Department employee wanted to help but was warned off by Chauvin, who pointed Mace at her.WATCH: Residents in Floyd’s hometown paints legacy onto streets

“She wanted to check on his pulse, check on Mr. Floyd’s well-being,” the prosecutor said. “She did her best to intervene. … She couldn’t help.”

The timeline differs from the initial account submitted last May by prosecutors, who said Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. The time 8:46 soon became a rallying cry in the case. But it was revised during the investigation.

Fourteen jurors or alternates are hearing the case – eight of them white, six of them Black or multiracial, according to the court. Only 12 will deliberate; the judge has not said which two will be alternates.

About a dozen people chanted and carried signs outside the courthouse as Floyd family attorney Ben Crump, the Rev. Al Sharpton and members of the Floyd family went inside. Crump blasted the idea that the trial would be a tough test for jurors.

“We know that if George Floyd was a white American citizen, and he suffered this painful, tortuous death with a police officer’s knee on his neck, nobody, nobody, would be saying this is a hard case,” he said.

The downtown Minneapolis courthouse has been fortified with concrete barriers, fences and barbed and razor wire. City and state leaders are determined to prevent a repeat of the riots that followed Floyd’s death, with National Guard troops already mobilized.

Chauvin’s trial is being livestreamed over the objections of the prosecution. Judge Peter Cahill ordered that cameras be allowed largely because of the pandemic and the required social distancing, which left almost no room for spectators in the courtroom.

RELATED: Snap-decision defense may not work for ex-cop in George Floyd trial[2]

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