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.
MINNEAPOLIS — After three weeks of testimony, the trial of the former police officer charged with killing George Floyd ended swiftly: barely over a day of jury deliberations, then just minutes for the verdicts to be read – guilty, guilty and guilty – and Derek Chauvin was handcuffed and taken away to prison.
Chauvin, 45, could be sent to prison for decades when he is sentenced in about two months in a case that triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious reexamination of racism and policing in the U.S.
The verdict set off jubilation mixed with sorrow across the city and around the nation. Hundreds of people poured into the streets of Minneapolis, some running through traffic with banners. Drivers blared their horns in celebration.
“Today, we are able to breathe again,” Floyd’s younger brother Philonise said at a joyous family news conference where tears streamed down his face as he likened Floyd to the 1955 Mississippi lynching victim Emmett Till, except that this time there were cameras around to show the world what happened.
The jury of six whites and six Black or multiracial people came back with its verdict after about 10 hours of deliberations over two days. The now-fired white officer was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Chauvin’s face was obscured by a COVID-19 mask, and little reaction could be seen beyond his eyes darting around the courtroom. His bail was immediately revoked. Sentencing will be in two months; the most serious charge carries up to 40 years in prison.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson followed Chauvin out of the courtroom without comment.
VIDEO: Biden, Harris react to Chauvin verdict
President Joe Biden welcomed the verdict, saying Floyd’s death was “a murder in full light of day, and it ripped the blinders off for the whole world” to see systemic racism.
But he warned: “It’s not enough. We can’t stop here. We’re going to deliver real change and reform. We can and we must do more to reduce the likelihood that tragedies like this will ever happen again.”
The jury’s decision was hailed around the country as justice by other political and civic leaders and celebrities, including former President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a white man, who said on Twitter that Floyd “would still be alive if he looked like me. That must change.”
At a park next to the Minneapolis courthouse, a hush fell over a crowd of about 300 as they listened to the verdict on their cellphones. Then a great roar went up, with many people hugging, some shedding tears.
At the intersection where Floyd was pinned down, a crowd chanted, “One down, three to go!” – a reference to the three other fired Minneapolis officers facing trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder in Floyd’s death.
Janay Henry, who lives nearby, said she felt grateful and relieved.
“I feel grounded. I can feel my feet on the concrete,” she said, adding that she was looking forward to the “next case with joy and optimism and strength.”
Jamee Haggard, who brought her biracial 4-year-old daughter to the intersection, said: “There’s some form of justice that’s coming.”
The verdict was read in a courthouse ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire and patrolled by National Guard troops, in a city on edge against another round of unrest – not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a young Black man, Daunte Wright, in a Minneapolis suburb April 11.
The jurors’ identities were kept secret and will not be released until the judge decides it is safe to do so.
It is unusual for police officers to be prosecuted for killing someone on the job. And convictions are extraordinarily rare.
Out of the thousands of deadly police shootings in the U.S. since 2005, fewer than 140 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter, according to data maintained by Phil Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University. Before Tuesday, only seven were convicted of murder.
Juries often give police officers the benefit of the doubt when they claim they had to make split-second, life-or-death decisions. But that was not an argument Chauvin could easily make.
Floyd, 46, died May 25 after being arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $ 20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a corner market. He panicked, pleaded that he was claustrophobic and struggled with police when they tried to put him in a squad car. They put him on the ground instead.
The centerpiece of the case was the excruciating bystander video of Floyd gasping repeatedly, “I can’t breathe” and onlookers yelling at Chauvin to stop as the officer pressed his knee on or close to Floyd’s neck for what authorities say was 9 1/2 minutes, including several minutes after Floyd’s breathing had stopped and he had no pulse.
Prosecutors played the footage at the earliest opportunity, during opening statements, and told the jury: “Believe your eyes.” From there it was shown over and over, analyzed one frame at a time by witnesses on both sides.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, demonstrations and scattered violence broke out in Minneapolis, around the country and beyond. The furor also led to the removal of Confederate statues and other offensive symbols such as Aunt Jemima.
In the months that followed, numerous states and cities restricted the use of force by police, revamped disciplinary systems or subjected police departments to closer oversight.
The “Blue Wall of Silence” that often protects police accused of wrongdoing crumbled after Floyd’s death. The Minneapolis police chief quickly called it “murder” and fired all four officers, and the city reached a staggering $ 27 million settlement with Floyd’s family as jury selection was underway.
VIDEO: Closing, opening arguments in Chauvin trial
Police-procedure experts and law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department, including the chief, testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training.
Medical experts for the prosecution said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him, a knee on his neck and his face jammed against the ground.
Chauvin’s attorney called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to try to make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of a heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
Under the law, police have certain leeway to use force and are judged according to whether their actions were “reasonable” under the circumstances.
The defense also tried to make the case that Chauvin and the other officers were hindered in their duties by what they perceived as a growing, hostile crowd.
Chauvin did not testify, and all that the jury or the public ever heard by way of an explanation from him came from a police body-camera video after an ambulance had taken the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Floyd away. Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ’cause he’s a sizable guy … and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
The prosecution’s case also included tearful testimony from onlookers who said the police kept them back when they protested what was happening.
Eighteen-year-old Darnella Frazier, who shot the crucial video, said Chauvin gave the bystanders a “cold” and “heartless” stare. She and others said they felt a sense of helplessness and lingering guilt from witnessing Floyd’s slow-motion death.
“It’s been nights I stayed up, apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more, and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” she testified.
Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan. Associated Press video journalist Angie Wang in Atlanta and writers Doug Glass, Stephen Groves, Aaron Morrison, Tim Sullivan and Michael Tarm in Minneapolis; Mohamed Ibrahim in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota; and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed.
MINNEAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) — Jurors are beginning deliberations Monday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis officer charged in the death of George Floyd, after three weeks filled with countless surveillance videos, emotional testimony and a myriad of medical experts.
Both the defense and prosecution wrapped up their closing arguments Monday.
The state reiterated its case that Chauvin killed Floyd by keeping his knee on his neck for more than nine minutes, failing to provide aid after he became unresponsive.
The jurors deliberated about four hours before retiring for the night to the hotel where they are being sequestered for this final phase of the trial. They were due to resume Tuesday morning.
“George Floyd’s final words on May 25, 2020, were ‘Please, I can’t breathe.’ And he said those words to ‘Mr. Officer.’ He said those words to the defendant.” Schleicher said as he pointed to Chauvin. “He asked for help with his very last breath.”
The defense continued to argue Chauvin was following his training, acting as a “reasonable officer” would, while pointing to other factors including Floyd’s health as responsible for his death.
“[Chauvin] was following policy. he was trained this way. it all demonstrates a lack of intent,” Nelson said.
Before they began deliberations, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill gave the jury instructions drawn up by the court with input from prosecutors and the defense. Cahill explained legal definitions, went over different types of evidence and the elements required to prove guilt in each of the counts against Chauvin.
“The fact that other causes contributed to the death does not relieve the defendant of criminal liability,” Cahill said, reading from written jury instructions.
Jurors are normally allowed to take copies of the instructions with them to the deliberation room, where many jurors rely on them as a kind of roadmap to interpreting the evidence.
Chauvin’s brief defense wrapped up last week with Chauvin passing on a chance to take the stand. Chauvin informed the court that he would not testify Thursday, saying he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right.
Chauvin’s right not to testify “is guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions,” said Cahill before closing arguments. “You should not draw any inference from the fact that the defendant has not testified in this case.”
Chauvin is charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 25 death, following an arrest that happened on suspicion Floyd used a fake $ 20 bill to buy cigarettes at a convenience store. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was declared dead after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes. Bystander video footage shows Chauvin pressing his knee into a handcuffed Floyd’s neck, with Floyd repeatedly claiming that he could not breathe. Floyd’s death sparked protests and civil unrest in Minneapolis and across the U.S. over police brutality, at points turning violent.
The jury, along with two alternates, is comprised of six white women, two white men, three Black men, one Black woman and two multiracial women, according to court records. They will be sequestered in a hotel outside of deliberation hours.
Their verdict needs to be unanimous. If convicted on the most serious charge of second-degree murder, Chauvin faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.
Closing argumentS: prosecution
During his closing arguments, prosecutor Steve Schleicher repeated a phrase: “Nine minutes and 29 seconds,” — the length of time Chauvin was captured on video on May 25, 2020, with his knee pressed into the dying Floyd’s neck.
Schleicher and the prosecution hope to convince the jury that Chauvin “knew better” but did not follow police training and policies and his actions were reckless, unreasonable and warrant conviction.
“What the defendant did was not policing, it was assault,” said Schleicher, after reminding the jury that the trial was “not prosecution of the police” but of one defendant who chose “pride over policing.”
Schleicher described how Chauvin ignored Floyd’s cries that he couldn’t breathe, and continued to kneel on Floyd after he stopped breathing and had no pulse — even after the ambulance arrived — saying he “had to know what was right beneath him.”
“The defendant heard him say that over and over. He heard him, but he just didn’t listen. He continued to push him down, to grind into him, to shimmy, to twist his hand for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. He begged. George Floyd begged until he could speak no more, and the defendant continued this assault,” said Schleicher, who repeatedly used the word “assault.”
Prosecutors need to prove underlying assault for most serious charge of second-degree murder.
It might be difficult to “imagine a police officer doing something like this,” said Schleicher, but reminded jurors that they were asked during jury selection to set aside any preconceived notions about police officers.
“George Floyd was not a threat to anyone. He wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. He wasn’t trying to do anything to anyone. Facing George Floyd that day did not require one ounce of courage. And none was shown on that day. No courage was required. All that was required was a little compassion and none was shown on that day.”
“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” Steve Schleicher said, referring to the excruciating bystander video of Floyd pinned to the pavement with Chauvin’s knee on or close to his neck.
Portions of the bystander video and other footage were replayed during his closing, as Schleicher dismissed some of the defense theories as “nonsense,” saying Chauvin’s pressure on Floyd killed him 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 Floyd suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from auto exhaust.
The prosecutor referred to the idea that it was heart disease that killed Floyd as an “amazing coincidence.”
Schleicher concluded by reminding the jury: “You have the power” to convict and to trust the evidence they had seen throughout the trial. “It is exactly what you knew, it’s what you felt in your gut, what you know know in your heart… This wasn’t policing, this was murder.”
Closing arguments: Defense
Chauvin’s lead lawyer, Eric Nelson, later countered that Chauvin behaved as any “reasonable police officer” would, arguing that he followed his training from 19 years on the force.
He repeated a single phrase scores of times, saying Chauvin behaved as a “reasonable police officer” would in dealing with a man as “large” as Floyd, who was struggling against being put in a police car when Chauvin arrived, responding to a call for back-up.
Chauvin, dressed in a grey suit and dark blue shirt and tie, removed his face mask, worn as part of the coronavirus pandemic’s social-distancing requirements, and watched his lawyer defend him.
Nelson walked through the events of the day, moving step by step and saying what he believed Chauvin was seeing and learning after arriving on the scene, asking jurors to consider what a “reasonable officer” would do.
Nelson said jurors have to consider all the information Chauvin had from dispatchers, his arrival as two officers struggled to push Floyd into a patrol car and the increasingly upset people standing nearby and loudly pleading with them to get off the Black man.
Nelson said the prosecution has been focused on the time Chauvin had his knee on Floyd, arguing this disregards the behavior of both Floyd and the officers up until that point. Nelson said all the law enforcement witnesses testified the level of force was appropriate up until Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd.
“You have to take into account that officers are human beings, capable of making mistakes in highly stressful situations,” Nelson said. “In this case, the totality of the circumstances that were known to a reasonable police officer in the precise moment the force was used demonstrates that this was an authorized use of force, as unattractive as it may be, and this is reasonable doubt.”
Once Floyd was on the ground, Nelson said one of the witnesses said it is not uncommon for people to “pretend to have a medical emergency” to avoid being arrested, so a “reasonable officer” relies on their observations instead.
Nelson said Chauvin was also following police training in observing the bystanders on the scene, saying they were “in crisis” so he was actively watching for potential signs of aggression from the crowd.
He said a “very critical thing” happens at the “very precise moment” a witness said George Floyd took his last breath: Chauvin pulled his mace from his belt and was startled by someone coming up from behind him. Nelson said the distraction of the crowd kept Chauvin from noticing Floyd had stopped breathing.
Nelson used the same videos as the prosecution to try to prove an opposite point: The fact that Chauvin continued kneeling on Floyd even as he knew he was being filmed was evidence he believed he was responding to the scene in a reasonable way, Nelson said.
“In this case, the totality of the circumstances that were known to a reasonable police officer in the precise moment the force was used demonstrates that this was an authorized use of force, as unattractive as it may be,” Nelson said. “And this is reasonable doubt.”
CLOSING ARGUMENTS: PROSECUTION REBUTTAL
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell had the final word, offering the state’s rebuttal argument. The prosecutor, who is Black, said that the questions about the use of force and cause of death are “so simple that a child can understand it.”
“In fact, a child did understand it, when the 9-year-old girl said, ‘Get off of him,’” Blackwell said, referring to a young witness who objected to what she saw. “That’s how simple it was. `Get off of him.’ Common sense.”
Blackwell said prosecutors only have to prove that Chauvin’s actions were a substantial causal factor in his death, not the sole cause, questioning why the former officer continued to kneel on Floyd after he became unresponsive.
“How is that a reasonable exercise of the use of force?” Blackwell said. “Reasonable is as reasonable does – what you saw here today was not reasonable.”
Blackwell questioned another argument raised by Nelson, who said there was no bruising or other evidence of asphyxia in the autopsy of George Floyd, saying an expert testified that it was not uncommon.
NOTABLE MOMENTS FROM THE TRIAL
The prosecution called two weeks’ worth of witness to the stand whereas the defense only used two days of testimony before resting its case.
Law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training, while medical experts said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down.
George Floyd’s brother broke down on the witness stand last week as he was shown a picture of his late mother and a young George during the trial.
“He was one of those people in the community that when they had church outside, people would attend church just because he was there,” Philonise Floyd said. “Nobody would go out there until they seen him. And he just was like a person that everybody loved around the community. He — he just knew how to make people feel better.”
Prosecutors used a legal doctrine called “spark of life” to call his brother to testify about Floyd’s life, and previously used it to call Courtney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend to the stand. Ross testified about her romance with Floyd and how an addiction to painkillers took hold of their life together. Minnesota is a rarity in explicitly permitting such “spark of life” testimony ahead of a verdict. Defense attorneys often complain that such testimony allows prosecutors to play on jurors’ emotions.
The defense said Floyd put himself at risk by swallowing fentanyl and methamphetamine, then resisted officers trying to arrest him — factors that compounded his vulnerability to a diseased heart and hoped to raise sufficient doubt enough that Chauvin should be acquitted.
Lawyers for Chauvin began presenting their case at the start of the third week of testimony by calling to the stand a now-retired officer who pulled over a car in which Floyd was a passenger in 2019 – a year before his deadly encounter with Chauvin.
The testimony, accompanied by body camera video of the incident, was intended to show the jury what effects the ingestion of opioids may have had on Floyd.
Chauvin’s defense called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
Barry Brodd, a private consultant in the use of force by law enforcement, said Chauvin was following his training, given that he was dealing with a tense and fluid situation.
“I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified, and was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement, in his interactions with Mr. Floyd,” he said.
Guilty verdicts must be unanimous, which means Nelson needs to raise doubt in the minds of just a single juror on the various counts.
DECISION IN JURY’S HANDS
The jurors will be sequestered at a hotel in a city whose downtown is filled with National Guard troops and boarded-up windows, preparing for potential unrest.
“If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short,” Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill told jurors on the question of how much to pack.
With the trial in session, Minneapolis has been bracing for a possible repeat of the protests and violence that broke out last spring over Floyd’s death.
Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered outside the heavily guarded Brooklyn Center police station in the days since the shooting. Protesters have shouted profanities, launched fireworks, shaken a security fence surrounding the building and lobbed water bottles at officers. Police have driven away protesters with tear gas grenades, rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades and long lines of riot police.