The Slatest

Derek Chauvin’s Defense Rests After He Declines to Take the Stand

A courtroom sketch shows Derek Chauvin, wearing a suit, speaking into a microphone from his seat at the defense table.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin tells the judge that he has waived his right to testify. Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin elected not to testify in his own defense Thursday concluding Chauvin’s case in the death of George Floyd. Chauvin’s defense against multiple charges of murder spanned two days and seven witnesses, while the prosecution called 38 witnesses in its case that spread over 11 days. The weeks of testimony was capped by Chauvin’s decision not to take the stand Thursday, which a moment in the courtroom that occurred outside the view of the jury. Chauvin, who has worn a face mask in court that added to his sense of expressionlessness throughout the trial, removed the mask and informed the judge he did not intend to testify. “I will invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege today,” Chauvin informed the court. “It is your decision to not testify?” Hennepin County Judge Peter A. Cahill asked. “It is, your honor,” Chauvin replied. And with that, moments later, the defense rested its case.

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The jury is expected to hear closing arguments on Monday before being sequestered to consider and render its verdict. The prosecution’s case was pretty straightforward throughout and built on the extensive video recordings taken at the scene from officer cams to witness phone videos. There wasn’t much room for debate over what happened, as it was there onscreen for all to see, so the main thrust of the defense’s case was that what the jury—and the world—saw on those videos wasn’t actually what killed George Floyd. It wasn’t the nine-and-a-half minutes that Chauvin kneeled on Floyd that caused his death, the defense argued, it was a drug overdose and Floyd’s bad health that were the true cause. In that universe, Chauvin was just doing his job and Floyd’s death accidental.

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To bolster its alternative theory for Floyd’s death, the defense quibbled with where Chauvin’s knee was placed on Floyd’s body, as part of a larger argument that Floyd wasn’t really all that uncomfortable underneath the officer’s weight. The defense considered it exculpatory that Chauvin’s knee was not continuously on Floyd’s neck for the full nine minutes and 29 seconds. Floyd begged for help, said he couldn’t breathe, writhed, gasped, and ultimately died underneath Chauvin’s weight. Some seven minutes into kneeling on Floyd, body camera footage showed another officer on the scene telling Chauvin that he couldn’t find Floyd’s pulse. Chauvin responded by continuing to kneel on Floyd for another two minutes. The defense justified Chauvin’s actions by arguing the scene with bystanders gathering was unstable and dangerous.

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The prosecution called expert witnesses to dissect the arrest frame-by-frame, medical experts explaining what was likely happening in Floyd’s body and pinpointing the exact moment he died. Minneapolis police colleagues took the stand stating what Chauvin was trained to do in such a situation and should have known to do differently to save Floyd’s life. The defense called two witnesses to cover sweeping ground in its case, use-of-force expert, Barry Brodd, and forensic pathologist David Fowler. Fowler argued it could have been drugs that killed Floyd or it could have been something else, just not the most obvious thing. Brodd testified that the technique Chauvin was using didn’t even qualify, in his view, as use-of-force, even though it was explicitly considered such by Minneapolis police policy.

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Chauvin’s defense was short because there wasn’t much of one. It could have been drugs and, as always, the white cop was scared. That’s it in a nutshell. It doesn’t take a forensic specialist to breakdown exactly what nerve that’s trying to strike. “It’s easy to sit and judge in an office on an officer’s conduct,” Brodd testified this week. “It’s more of a challenge to put yourself in the officer’s shoes to try to make an evaluation through what they’re feeling, what they’re sensing, the fear they have, and then make a determination.”

The defense rested and will rely on someone on the jury refusing to budge, refusing to change their mind that they had already made up before the trial even began. Refusing to believe their own eyes about what they saw—from multiple vantage points—on May 25th.

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