Prosecutors began their final arguments in front of the jury on Monday in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the white ex-police officer who was accused of killing George Floyd last May. A counter-argument from the defense should follow.
Clashes over police violence against black men have raged in Minneapolis and elsewhere.
There is no time limit for arguments, although they could be completed as early as Monday. The anonymous, multiracial jury may deliberate until a judgment has been reached that must be unanimous for the conviction.
The final arguments are expected to produce two very different versions of what happened on May 25, the day Floyd died after Chauvin and other Minneapolis police officers tried to arrest him on suspicion of passing a forged bill.
Prosecutors and their experts have told the jury that Chauvin killed Floyd by cutting off his airway with the police officer’s knee while the black suspect was handcuffed and pegged to the floor for about 9 minutes.
They used extensively video footage of bystanders showing Floyd pleading for his life and telling officers he couldn’t breathe.
The prosecutor also called Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist and respiratory science expert, who testified that Floyd had died of a lack of oxygen.
“A healthy person exposed to what Mr. Floyd was exposed to would have died,” Tobin told the jury.
The indictment was led by Matthew Frank, an attorney with the Minnesota Attorney General. Two other prosecutors, Steve Schleicher and Jerry Blackwell, will make the final arguments.
The defense led by Eric Nelson has argued that in addition to his underlying medical problems, Floyd died as a result of the high levels of fentanyl he took before his arrest. An autopsy also found methamphetamine in Floyd’s system.
Nelson has also tried to label the crowd of spectators who were there on May 25 as a threat to the arresting officers and to complicate their work. He has argued that Chauvin’s knee may not be on Floyd’s neck, but rather was on his back.
Nelson also has obvious discrepancies between the prosecutor’s arguments and Dr. Andrew Baker, Hennepin County’s medical examiner who performed Floyd’s autopsy.
Baker ruled Floyd’s death was murder, but did not establish that the cause of death was asphyxiation or lack of oxygen as prosecutors alleged.
“The sub-dual law enforcement, reluctance, and neck compression were simply more than Mr. Floyd could endure due to this heart condition,” Baker said.
Dr. David Fowler, a former Maryland chief medical officer called on by the defense, testified that carbon monoxide fumes from a nearby vehicle may have contributed to his death in addition to his enlarged heart, high blood pressure, and drug use.
Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder, third degree murder, and second degree manslaughter. Each of these allegations requires prosecutors to show that chauvin was a “major contributing factor” to Floyd’s death.
Second degree murder is sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in prison. Third degree murder is 25 years maximum and manslaughter charges are 10 years maximum. Actual penalties are often below the legal maximums.
Jurors are instructed that if they have reasonable doubts about Chauvin’s guilt, they must not vote guilty. A unanimous jury is required to convict any of the cases.
The jury consists of 14 people, including two deputies who can be dismissed before the deliberations. The diverse group consists of two multiracial women, three black men, one black woman, six white women, and two white men.
The trial comes as tensions are high. On April 11, while the clashes were ongoing, police officer Kimberly Potter Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man, fatally shot and killed during a traffic obstruction in nearby Brooklyn Center and sparked protests.
Potter stepped back, claiming she thought she was using a taser. She was charged with second degree manslaughter.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report
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