Chauvin Trial Lawyers Make Final Pitch 04/19 06:23
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Attorneys in the trial of a former Minneapolis police
officer charged with killing George Floyd are set to make their closing
arguments Monday, each side seeking to distill three weeks of testimony to
persuade jurors to deliver their view of the right verdict.
For prosecutors, Derek Chauvin recklessly squeezed the life from Floyd as he
and two other officers pinned him to the street for 9 minutes, 29 seconds
outside a corner market, despite Floyd's repeated cries that he couldn't
breathe -- actions they say warrant conviction not just for manslaughter but
also on two murder counts.
For the defense, Floyd, who was Black, put himself at risk by swallowing
fentanyl and methamphetamine, then resisted officers trying to arrest him --
factors that compounded his vulnerability to a diseased heart and raise
sufficient doubt that Chauvin, who is white, should be acquitted.
Each side will pull key testimony to support their narrative for what killed
Floyd in a case that roiled America 11 months ago and continues to resonate.
The anonymous jury will later deliver verdicts in a 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.
The attorneys aren't limited by time, though legal experts say overlong
arguments risk losing jurors' attention and may be less effective. Prosecutors
Steve Schleicher and Jerry Blackwell will share the closing, with Schleicher
leading off and Blackwell coming on for the last-word rebuttal of defense
attorney Eric Nelson's closing.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and
second-degree manslaughter. Experts expect Schleicher to walk jurors through
the elements of the charges. All three 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.
Schleicher can remind jurors of key testimony from a myriad prosecution
medical experts who testified that Floyd died of asphyxiation caused by being
pinned to the pavement. He and Blackwell can point to plentiful testimony from
use-of-force experts who said Chauvin's actions were clearly improper, as well
as Minneapolis Police Department officials saying they were outside his
Video played a huge role at trial, both in buttressing the expert testimony
and in driving home the emotional impact of Floyd's anguish and death.
Prosecutors can re-play video during their closings, and experts say they
Guilty verdicts must be unanimous, which means Nelson needs to raise doubt
in the minds of just a single juror on the various counts. His closing is
certain to return to the themes of his cross-examination of prosecution
witnesses and the brief defense case he mounted.
Nelson is sure to highlight how the county medical examiner, Dr. Andrew
Baker, did not conclude that Floyd died of asphyxia -- putting him at odds with
the prosecution's medical experts, even though Baker did call Floyd's death a
homicide and testify that he believes Floyd's heart gave out in part due to
being pinned to the ground.
Nelson is also certain to remind the jury of Floyd's drug use, perhaps with
the same language he frequently used during the testimony phase -- with
questions that emphasized words such as "illicit." Despite the long duration of
Floyd's restraint, he's likely to again portray Chauvin's use of force as
dictated by "fluid" and "dynamic" factors that shouldn't be second-guessed,
including the prospect that Chauvin was distracted by a threatening group of
Nelson is also likely to question perhaps the strongest single part of the
state's case -- the video of Floyd's arrest, including bystander Darnella
Frazier's video that largely established public perceptions of events. Nelson
argued that camera angles can be deceptive, and used other views to suggest to
jurors that Chauvin's knee wasn't on Floyd's neck at all times.
"If I was Nelson, I'd do a lot of things, because a lot of things need to be
done," Joe Friedberg, a local defense attorney not involved in the case, said.
"He's in desperate trouble here."
Fourteen jurors heard testimony, two of them alternates. If Judge Peter
Cahill follows the usual practice of dismissing the last two chosen as
alternates, the 12 who will deliberate will include six white and six Black or
Second-degree murder requires prosecutors to prove Chauvin intended to harm
Floyd. 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.