The Slatest

After Closing Arguments in Chauvin Murder Trial, the Jury Deliberates, and the Country Waits

Protesters holding a "Black Lives Matter" sign during a march on the final day of the trial.
Protesters holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign on the final day of testimony in the Derek Chauvin murder trial. Photo by Brian Feinzimer/Sipa USA

The jury heard five hours of closing arguments in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin Monday, bringing to a close 14 days of testimony over the death of George Floyd. The prosecution implored the jury of seven women and five men to “believe your eyes,” to believe what they saw on video, from multiple angles, while Chauvin’s defense told the jury, despite the video, it was not Chauvin kneeling on Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds that killed Floyd—though Floyd stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating during that time—it was a drug overdose that was the true killer.

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The jury, made up of six white, four Black, and two multiracial jurors, are now sequestered to consider the evidence for and against the charges against Chauvin, including second-degree murder, which carries up to 40 years in prison. Chauvin is also facing third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges. None of the charges against Chauvin require the jury to believe that Chauvin intended to kill Floyd on May 25th, but they all require that the jury believe that his actions were, at a minimum, a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death. It is a low bar considering the evidence, but that hasn’t mattered in the past, as only one police officer in the state of Minnesota has ever been convicted of murder while on-duty.

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The prosecution focused on the video tape of Chauvin throughout, calling police witnesses to testify to how Chauvin should have responded in the situation, how he was, in fact, trained to respond, along with medical experts to explain the obvious, that Chauvin slowly squeezed the life out of Floyd while perched on his back. Chauvin did not respond to Floyd’s pleas for help, the prosecution noted, he did not even respond to his fellow officer’s warning that he could no longer find Floyd’s pulse. Floyd was handcuffed, face down on the pavement, and that’s how he died. “This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video,” Steve Schleicher, the prosecutor who delivered the closing argument, told the jury. “It’s what you felt in your gut. It’s what you now know in your heart.”

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The defense emphasized the “totality of the circumstances,” including the 17 minutes that preceded the arrest, to introduce doubt about why Floyd died and to justify Chauvin’s actions during the arrest. In the defense’s closing argument, it skipped over days of testimony from the very people who trained Chauvin and worked with him during his 19 years as an officer, and said he was just doing his job—what he was trained to do. Chauvin was scared, the scene was hostile, his fellow officers were green and hadn’t done their job, all of which justified Chauvin continuing to kneel on Floyd, minute after minute, until he died.

When the jury adjourned, Chauvin’s defense immediately asked for the judge for a mistrial because of comments made by California Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters. Speaking from nearby Brooklyn Center, where 20-year-old Daunte Wright was recently shot and killed during a police stop, Waters, when speaking to reporters, was asked what the response would be if the verdict came back not guilty for Chauvin. “Well, we’ve got to stay on the street. And we’ve got to get more active,” Waters responded. “We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.” Chauvin’s lawyers argued this amounted to a threat and jury intimidation. Judge Peter Cahill denied the mistrial request but added, “I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.”

The city and state are braced for the verdict. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz declared a “peacetime emergency,” enabling more police from nearby states to be added to the several thousand National Guard soldiers already deployed to assist in the potential police response to the verdict. Area schools are also halting in-person classes and shifting online this week ahead of the potential verdict.

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