After three weeks of witness and expert testimony, the prosecution and the defense in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin have rested their cases and given closing arguments. Now it’s the jury’s turn to deliberate in the high-profile case of the death of George Floyd.
Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after Chauvin, a white 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. The jury will have to decide whether Chauvin’s actions played a significant role in Floyd’s death.
The prosecution has to show Chauvin’s restraint was a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death.
Prosecutor Steven Schleicher urged jurors during closing arguments to trust their own eyes.
Addressing the defense’s main arguments, Schleicher dismissed claims that a drug overdose, enlarged heart, or carbon monoxide killed Floyd.
“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” he said.
The attorney further told the jurors that after watching extensive videos and listening to dozens of witnesses, “you know how George Floyd died.”
“This wasn’t policing; this was murder,” he said.
During his closing arguments, Chauvin’s defense attorney urged jurors to consider the “totality of circumstances and facts” known to the former officer when considering if Chauvin acted reasonably and lawfully.
“The proper analysis is to take those 9 minutes and 29 seconds and put it into the context of the totality of the circumstances that a reasonable police officer would know,” attorney Eric Nelson said Monday.
Nelson added there was “absolutely no evidence that Officer Chauvin intentionally, purposefully applied unlawful force.”
“These are officers doing their job in a highly stressful situation, according to their training, according to the policies of the Minneapolis Police Department,” he said. “And it’s tragic, it’s tragic.”
He also said jurors needed to consider a variety of factors, including Floyd’s health history, drug use, stress and the possibility of excited delirium in determining what caused the man’s death.
“The state has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” he argued.
Here’s what’s known about the members of the jury and what’s before them as they consider whether to convict Chauvin, who was fired after the incident.
Who are the jurors?
The jury is made up of seven women and five men in their 20s to their 60s were seated as jurors in the case. Six of the jurors identify as white, four as Black and two as mixed-race. Two alternate jurors, both of them white women, listened to the testimony and closing arguments but will not join the deliberations.
The jury was seated after a selection process that lasted 11 days, during which 95 potential jurors were dismissed.
The 12 jurors are: two white men, one in his 20s and one in his 30s; four white women, three in their 50s and one in her 40s; two mixed-race women, one in her 20s and the other in her 40s; three Black men, two in their 30s and one in his 40s; and one Black woman in her 60s.
The jury will be sequestered as it deliberates.
What are the charges?
Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The second-degree murder charge carries the largest potential penalty, up to 40 years in prison. To meet the burden of proof, prosecutors needed to prove that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death “while committing or attempting to commit a felony offense,” in this case assault.
The lesser charge of third-degree murder carries a penalty of up to 25 years. Minnesota statute requires proof that the defendant committed an “act eminently dangerous to others.”
The final charge, second-degree manslaughter, which has the lowest burden of proof, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years. Prosecutors would have to prove that Floyd’s death was caused by Chauvin’s negligence in creating “an unreasonable risk” and “consciously [taking] chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.”
What evidence is being weighed?
The prosecution has said Floyd died because Chauvin knelt on his neck for 9½ minutes as he was handcuffed on the ground. The defense has argued that Floyd died because of a drug overdose and underlying health conditions and that Chauvin acted as he was trained to.
The jury was presented with extensive video showing officers’ interaction with Floyd from a variety of angles and perspectives. That included multiple bystander videos and police body camera video from several officers, as well as security video.
“This is a case where the prosecution’s best evidence was contained entirely in video and not just one video, but many videos that most of the world only learned about for the first time during the trial,” NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos said. “They played the tape early and often.”
The prosecution called dozens of witnesses, including bystanders who offered emotional testimony about having witnessed the interaction, law enforcement officers and outside experts who weighed in on police training and use of force. The police chief and the department’s longest-serving officer testified that Chauvin’s use of force “absolutely” violated department policy and was “totally unnecessary.”
Chief Medaria Arradondo’s testimony was a rare instance of a police chief’s testifying against a police officer.
The prosecution also offered testimony from medical experts, including the medical examiner who ruled on the cause of death.
Several prosecution witnesses said Floyd died from low oxygen, or asphyxia, caused by the way he was restrained.
Dr. Martin Tobin, a renowned pulmonary expert, testified that he calculated that Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck for more than 3 minutes after “there was not an ounce of oxygen left” in his body.
Dr. Andrew Baker, the medical examiner for Hennepin County, testified that fentanyl and heart disease did not directly cause Floyd’s death.
“Mr. Floyd’s use of fentanyl did not cause the subdual or neck restraint. His heart disease did not cause the subdual or the neck restraint,” Baker said.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, tried to prove that Floyd died because of health conditions, such as heart disease, and his drug use that day. Nelson also called law enforcement use-of-force experts to the stand, including a Minneapolis Park Police officer who responded to the scene and testified that bystanders were being “aggressive” toward officers.
The defense sought to portray the onlookers as a distraction and a potential threat that led the responding officers to worry for their safety and diverted their attention from Floyd.
The defense called several witnesses over two days, far fewer than the dozens called by the prosecution. One medical expert called by the defense, Dr. David Fowler, is a pathologist who has testified in numerous high-profile police use-of-force cases, testified last week that Floyd died of a sudden heart rhythm disturbance as a result of his heart disease. He also said the fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system were contributing factors in his death.
“You put all of those together, it’s very difficult to say which of those is the most accurate,” Fowler said.
Fowler, who was Maryland’s chief medical examiner for 17 years, testified that he would have classified the manner of death as “undetermined,” instead of as a homicide, as the medical examiner’s office ruled.
Fowler also introduced a theory that carbon monoxide poisoning from a squad car’s exhaust might have contributed to Floyd’s death. He acknowledged that he had not seen any test results that would indicate that Floyd suffered any injuries from carbon monoxide.
What happens if they can’t reach a unanimous decision?
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill told the jurors Thursday about their deliberations, “If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short.”
“Basically, it’s up to the jury how long you deliberate, how long you need to come to a unanimous decision on any count,” he said.
The jurors will have to decide whether the prosecution proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt and whether they can reach unanimous decisions. The defense bears no burden of proof, with Chauvin being presumed innocent unless he is convicted.
If the jurors cannot come to unanimous decisions on one or multiple charges, commonly known as a “hung jury,” the judge could declare a mistrial. Cevallos, the NBC News legal analyst, said that when jurors reach an impasse, a judge will meet with lawyers from both sides and discuss what they should do to resolve it. A judge can also instruct a deadlocked jury to continue deliberating to keep trying to reach a verdict.
If they are hopelessly deadlocked, a note will come out from the jury, who will essentially say no further deliberation will change the result, Cevallos said.
Prosecutors could then decide to retry Chauvin.