Police officer Derek Chauvin "had to know" he was squeezing the life out of George Floyd as the Black man cried over and over that he couldn't breathe and finally fell silent, prosecutor tells jury during closing arguments at Chauvin's murder trial.
The murder case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of Black man George Floyd has gone to the jury.
Twelve jurors – six of them white, six Black or multiracial – are beginning deliberations on Monday in a city on edge against another round of unrest.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill issued final instructions to the jury after prosecutors and the defence attorney for Derek Chauvin made their closing arguments.
"You must be absolutely fair," Cahill said. "Consider and weigh the evidence and apply the law."
Chauvin 'had to know' Floyd's life was in danger
Officer Chauvin "had to know" he was squeezing the life out of Floyd as the Black man cried out over and over that he couldn’t breathe and finally fell silent, a prosecutor told jurors earlier in the closing arguments.
Floyd was "just a man, lying on the pavement, being pressed upon, desperately crying out. A grown man crying out for his mother. A human being," prosecutor Steve Schleicher said on Monday as he sought to convince the racially diverse jury that Chauvin's actions as he pinned Floyd to the pavement with his knee were reckless, unreasonable and criminal.
Closing arguments began with the city of Minneapolis on edge against a repeat of the violence that erupted last spring over the excruciating bystander video of Chauvin pressing down on or close to Floyd's neck for up to 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as bystanders yelled at the officer to get off.
The defence for the now-fired white officer contends Floyd put himself at risk by using fentanyl and methamphetamine, then resisted officers trying to arrest him — factors that combined with his heart disease to lead to his death.
Chauvin's lead lawyer, Eric Nelson, countered that Chauvin behaved as any "reasonable police officer" would, arguing that he followed his training from 19 years on the force.
Nelson said prosecutors were wrong to dismiss his theory that carbon monoxide poisoning from the nearby police car's exhaust and Floyd's use of fentanyl, an opioid painkiller, may have contributed to Floyd's death.
He repeated a single phrase scores of times, saying Chauvin behaved as a "reasonable police office" 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.
But 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."
'He was not a threat to anyone'
"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 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.
Chauvin was “on top of him for 9 minutes and 29 seconds and he had to know,” Schleicher said. "He had to know.”
He also reminded jurors that Minneapolis police take an oath to protect with courage, and said it might be difficult to "imagine a police officer doing something like this,” 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 that 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.”
Judge Peter Cahill opened the day's court session by instructing the jurors on reviewing different types of evidence and told them that they will consider each charge against Chauvin separately.
The anonymous jury will deliberate in a downtown courthouse surrounded by concrete barriers and razor wire, in an anxious city heavily fortified by National Guard members and just days after fresh outrage erupted over the police killing of a 20-year-old Black man in a nearby suburb.
A few protesters gathered outside the courthouse Monday as light snowflakes blew in the wind.
“No breaths. No pulse. 3 1/2 minutes. Chauvin didn’t let up/get up,” read one protester's sign.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
All three charges require the jury to conclude that Chauvin's actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd's death — and that his use of force was unreasonable.
Second-degree murder requires prosecutors to prove Chauvin intended to harm Floyd, but not that he intended to kill him.
Third-degree murder requires proof that Chauvin's actions were “eminently dangerous” and done with indifference to loss of life.
Second-degree manslaughter requires jurors to believe that he caused Floyd's death through negligence and consciously took the chance of causing severe injury or death.
Each count carries a different maximum sentence: 40 years for second-degree unintentional murder, 25 years for third-degree murder, and 10 years for second-degree manslaughter.
Sentencing guidelines call for far less time, including 12 1/2 years on either murder count.