Prosecutors began to make their closing arguments to the jury on Monday in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former police officer accused of killing George Floyd last May, with a rebuttal from the defense expected to follow.
Arguments come amid a mounting uproar in Minneapolis and elsewhere over police violence against Black men.
There is no time limit on arguments, although they could conclude as early as Monday. The anonymous multiracial jury will be allowed to deliberate for as long as it takes to reach a verdict, which must be unanimous to convict.
The closing arguments are expected to put forward two very different versions of what happened on May 25, the day that Floyd died after Chauvin and other Minneapolis police officers attempted to arrest him on suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill.
Prosecutors and their expert witnesses 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 pinned to the ground for about 9 minutes.
They have made extensive use of video footage recorded by bystanders showing Floyd pleading for his life and telling officers he was unable to breathe.
Prosecutors also called Dr. Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist and expert in the science of breathing, who testified that Floyd died from lack of oxygen.
“A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died,” Tobin told jurors.
The prosecution was led by Matthew Frank, an attorney in the Minnesota attorney general’s office. Two other prosecutors, Steve Schleicher and Jerry Blackwell, will make the closing arguments.
The defense, led by Eric Nelson, has argued that Floyd died as a result of high levels of the drug fentanyl that he had ingested prior to his arrest, in addition to his underlying medical problems. An autopsy also found methamphetamine in Floyd’s system.
Nelson has also attempted to paint the crowd of onlookers who were at the scene on May 25 as posing a threat to the arresting officers and making their job more difficult. He has argued that Chauvin’s knee may not have been on Floyd’s neck, but instead placed on his back.
Nelson has also highlighted apparent discrepancies between the prosecutors’ arguments and the findings of Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner, who conducted Floyd’s autopsy.
Baker ruled that Floyd’s death was a homicide but did not find that the cause of his death was asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, as prosecutors claimed.
“The law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of that, those heart conditions,” Baker said.
Dr. David Fowler, a former chief medical examiner for Maryland called by the defense, testified that carbon monoxide exhaust from a nearby vehicle may also 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. Those charges each require prosecutors to prove that Chauvin was a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death.
Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Third-degree murder has a maximum of 25 years, and the manslaughter charge has a maximum of 10 years. Actual sentences often fall short of statutory maximums.
Jurors are instructed that if they have any reasonable doubt about Chauvin’s guilt, they must vote not guilty. A unanimous jury is required to convict on any of the counts.
The jury has 14 people, including two alternates who may be dismissed before deliberations. The diverse group is made up of two multiracial women, three Black men, a Black woman, six white women, and two white men.
The trial comes as tensions are running high. On April 11, as arguments were underway, police officer Kimberly Potter fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop in nearby Brooklyn Center, sparking protests.
Potter resigned and claimed she thought she was using a Taser. She has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report
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