April 19 (UPI) — The jury in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin began deliberations Monday after nearly six hours of closing arguments and rebuttals by prosecutors and the defense.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill sent the jurors off to deliberate about 4 p.m. with a warning to not let “bias, prejudice, passion, sympathy or public opinion influence your decision.”
Before doing so, he dismissed the two alternate jurors, leaving the remaining 12 to be escorted out of the downtown Minneapolis courtroom and into sequestration.
Cahill also denied a defense request for a mistrial based on comments made by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., in the which she urged anti-racism protesters in the Twin Cities to become “more confrontational” if Chauvin is found not guilty of killing George Floyd almost a year ago.
Deliberations began after attorneys made their closing arguments in the trial.
Prosecutors began the day with nearly two hours of summations, followed by a 2 1/2-hour closing argument by defense attorney Eric Nelson.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell got the final word with rebuttals to Nelson’s presentation before the jury was sequestered.
Chauvin, 45, who declined to testify in the trial, faces conviction on a charge of second- or third-degree murder or second-degree manslaughter for Floyd’s death.
If convicted of the most serious charge, second-degree murder, he would face as many as 40 years in prison. He’d face up to 25 years for third-degree murder and 10 years for second-degree manslaughter.
All 12 jurors must agree on a charge to reach a verdict. One dissenting juror would result in a hung jury.
The end of the trial comes about 11 months after Floyd’s death on a Minneapolis street that set off protests across America organized against police brutality and racism.
Before the trial recessed last week, Cahill told jurors they should prepare for a lengthy deliberation.
“If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short,” Cahill said, according to NPR. “Basically, it’s up to the jury how long you deliberate, how long you need to come to a unanimous decision on any count.”
In his opening remarks Monday, co-prosecutor Steve Schleicher told jurors that Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd during the May 25, 2020, arrest was excessive and “not policing.”
Schleicher repeatedly said Chauvin did not follow protocol or training and argued that the former cop is “not on trial for being a police officer,” but rather he’s being tried for what he did to Floyd.
“This was murder,” he said at the end of his closing argument. “This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video. It is exactly that.
“You can believe your eyes. It’s exactly what you believed. It’s exactly what you saw with your eyes. It’s exactly what you knew.”
“George Floyd was not a threat. He never was,” he added. “He was not resisting — he was just unable to comply.”
Schleicher said Chauvin heard Floyd say that he couldn’t breathe, but continued to kneel on his neck and back.
“The defendant heard him say that over and over,” the prosecutor said. “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. George Floyd begged, until he could speak no more.
“You cannot justify this use of force.”
Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, told jurors that the case is about more than the 9 minutes, 29 seconds that Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck.
Nelson told the jury that when Chauvin arrived at the scene, he observed Floyd struggling with three other officers. Nelson played body camera footage of the struggle for the jury.
“[Chauvin] walks onto a scene, he sees active resistance occurring and potentially active aggression occurred,” Nelson said.
He said it was appropriate for Chauvin to use force against Floyd and use techniques at his disposal, including controlled takedowns and neck restraints, since Floyd was resisting.
Prosecutors have focused on the 9 minutes and 29 seconds and ignored the previous 16 minutes and 59 seconds of the struggle with Floyd, Nelson said.
He said none of the use-of-force experts who testified described anything that happened in the almost 17 minutes before Floyd was restrained on the ground as “unlawful or unreasonable.”
On the body camera video, jurors can hear Floyd repeatedly tell officers he “can’t breathe.”
Nelson told jurors that it is not uncommon for suspects to fake a medical emergency to avoid arrest.
“A reasonable police officer tries to predict or is at least cognizant and concerned about future behavior, based upon past behavior,” Nelson said.
“But the unpredictability of humans factors into the reasonable police officer’s analysis, too, because sometimes … reasonable police officers take someone into custody with no problem, and suddenly they become a problem. It can change in an instant.”
Blackwell wrapped up the day’s arguments with a point-by-point rebuttal of Nelson’s case.
The defense attorney urged Cahill to declare a mistrial after Waters’ Saturday night appearance in Brooklyn Center, Minn., where demonstrators were gathered to protest the death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright.
Wright was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb last week. Officer Kim Potter said she fired her service weapon at Wright, mistakenly believing she was deploying a Taser. She’s been arrested on a charge of second-degree manslaughter.
Social media video of Waters’ appearance showed her urging protesters to “stay on the street” and “get more confrontational” if Chauvin is acquitted.
Nelson moved for a mistrial, arguing the comments put undue pressure on jurors. Cahill denied the motion, but conceded the remarks could constitute grounds for a later appeal.
“I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result on this whole trial being overturned,” he said.
The closing arguments came three weeks after the trial began in late March.
The jury heard from 45 witnesses during the trial — 38 for the prosecution and seven for the defense. Police training experts who criticized Chauvin for his use of force and medical experts who said Floyd died of asphyxiation testified for prosecutors.
Defense witnesses tried to convince jurors that there was more to Floyd’s death than the several minutes Chauvin’s knee was on his neck.
The defense has tried to shift blame from Chauvin’s restraint tactics to Floyd’s drug use and his underlying heart problems, or to the growing hostile crowd watching the scene.
The defense also suggested that carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust of a nearby squad car could have been a factor in Floyd’s death.
As the final stage of the trial arrived, tensions were high in Minneapolis and an acquittal would likely be followed by unrest — particularly in view of several other deadly police shootings involving people of color recently.
Thousands of protesters marched through Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood last week after the release of police body camera footage showing the shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo on March 29. He was shot dead by Chicago police as he raised his hands to surrender.