A jury has found a former police officer guilty of murder for using his knee to apply deadly pressure to the neck of an unarmed and handcuffed man last year in Minneapolis.
Derek Chauvin was unanimously convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges for killing George Floyd. He now faces up to 40 years in prison, which could mean the 45-year-old will effectively spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Chauvin was immediately handcuffed and remanded to prison following the reading of the verdict in the Hennepin County courthouse.
The jury’s decision on Tuesday afternoon followed more than 10 hours of deliberation after the prosecution and defense rested their respective cases about five weeks after the murder trial began, including jury selection.
Both sides delivered their closing arguments beginning Monday morning before Judge Peter Cahill instructed the jury on how to proceed with its deliberations.
“This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher told the jury Monday, referring to the viral video showing Floyd’s death on Memorial Day last year. “It’s exactly what you saw with your eyes. … It’s what you felt with your gut. It’s what you now know in your heart. This wasn’t policing. This was murder.”
Chauvin’s lead defense attorney Eric Nelson’s closing argument ultimately reverted to the theory that Floyd could have died because of carbon monoxide poisoning. He stressed to the jury that they should extend Chauvin the presumption of innocence and that the burden should be on the prosecution to prove he committed a crime. However, in defending Chauvin, Nelson effectively ended up blaming Floyd for his own death, repeatedly claiming without proof that the drugs in his system caused him to die, contradicting the Hennepin County medical examiner’s ruling that it was a homicide. Nelson also blamed Floyd’s heart disease for his death.
“A reasonable doubt is a doubt that is based on reason and common sense,” Nelson said before adding later in his closing arguments: “This was an authorized use of force, as ugly as it might be, and this was reasonable doubt.”
Nelson also tried to convince the jurors that Chauvin was simply following his training, including treating the growing group of spectators filming and excoriating him as a potential threat, which — according to Nelson — would have exacerbated the officer’s crime-fighting environment.
“That changed officer Chauvin’s perception of what was happening,” Nelson said while not necessarily addressing the fact that Chauvin was kneeling on Floyd’s neck for the better part of more than nine minutes.
Both sides showed bodycam footage from the fateful day nearly a year ago and relied on the testimonies of their respective experts in an effort to prove their cases.
But for the defense, in particular, the glaring lack of experts who testified may have played a role in how the jury reached its decision. The defense’s final witness, for instance, had his theories about Floyd’s death — like possibly dying from carbon monoxide poisoning or because of a drug overdose — decidedly debunked multiple times by experts called by the prosecution. Nelson even tried to argue that Floyd yelled out, “I ate too many drugs,” during his arrest. However, multiple witnesses told the defense that they could not make out that phrase on the video.
The National Guard stood by to watch outside the courthouse and around Minneapolis in anticipation of violent responses to the verdict regardless of which side it fell on.
In a pivotal moment prior to both sides resting their cases, the prosecution re-called an expert to the stand to rebut claims made by the defense’s star witness. Pulmonologist Dr. Martin Tobin contradicted with scientific proof pathologist Dr. David Fowler’s assertion that carbon monoxide poisoning factored in Floyd’s death.
The trial featured an extensive list of witnesses, including but not limited to bystanders who recorded the death and engaged with Chauvin, Minneapolis Police Department officers, high-ranking leaders and law enforcement use of force experts and medical experts along with Floyd’s family members and his girlfriend.
Dr. Andrew Baker, the medical examiner for Minnesota’s Hennepin County who previously ruled Floyd’s death a homicide caused by “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” told the courtroom that fentanyl and heart disease did not directly contribute to Floyd dying.
“In my opinion, the law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions,” Baker testified.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, a veteran of the force after joining the Minneapolis Police Department in 1989, said he believed Chauvin’s actions directly violated the standing policy.
“That action is not de-escalation,” Arradondo, who is Black, said. “And when we talk about the framework of our sanctity of life and when we talk about our principles and the values that we have, that action goes contrary to what we are talking about.”
Other experts testified on behalf of the defense and said Floyd’s death was not caused by a drug overdose and that Chauvin’s used an “unacceptable or reasonable use of force” while employing the kneeling restraint.
One of the most memorable moments in the trial came early on as the prosecution was presenting its case.
Donald Williams, a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and former wrestler, testified for the prosecution about his experience and knowledge surrounding the topic of chokeholds in relation to how Chauvin applied pressure to Floyd’s neck. He referred to the kneeling restraint used by Chauvin as a “blood choke” and said, “I believe I witnessed a murder.” Williams can be heard on the original video from the scene as well as multiple bodycam videos telling Chauvin he was killing Floyd by kneeling on his neck.
Thigs also got very emotional when the Minneapolis teen who filmed the chilling footage of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck recounted her daily trauma in the courtroom.
“There have been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” Darnella Frazier said. “But it’s like not what I should have done, it’s what he (Chauvin) should have done.”
In another emotional moment, Frazier’s nine-year-old cousin and eyewitness took the stand and testified that she was disappointed in Chauvin’s response when she saw him kneeling on Floyd.
This is a developing story that will be updated as additional information becomes available.