Closing arguments in Derek Chauvin trial: Here's what was said

The jury listened to lengthy presentations from the prosecution and defense.
derek chauvin court - closing arguments

Derek Chauvin's fate is now in the hands of the jury. 

The prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments in Hennepin County District Court in downtown Minneapolis on Monday in what served as their final push to remind the jury of everything they've heard over the past few weeks.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. The jury will have to unanimously agree whether Chauvin is guilty or innocent of each charge using the definition laid out in state law. 

Following jury instructions presented by Judge Peter Cahill, prosecutor Steve Schleicher argued the state's case for 1 hour and 45 minutes. 

In that time, Schleicher focused on the 9 minutes and 29 seconds in which Chauvin pinned Floyd on the ground outside of Cup Foods in south Minneapolis, saying it robbed him of oxygen, killing him. 

"The only thing about defendant's intent that we have to prove is that he applied force to George Floyd on purpose," Schleicher said. "Somebody's telling you they can't breathe and you keep doing it. You're doing it on purpose." 

Schleicher added, "How can you justify the continued force on this man when he has no pulse?"

Schleicher, who focused on Chauvin's actions, his training and medical evidence in the case, repeated several phrases throughout his argument, including "9 minutes, 29 seconds" and that Floyd was a "human being."

The state, which stressed that Chauvin did not act as a reasonable officer would have acted, asked the jury to convict Chauvin on all three charges, saying "You can believe your eyes. It's what you felt in your gut, it's what you felt in your heart."

Following Schleicher, Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson made his argument in favor of the former MPD officer's innocence, speaking 2 hours and 40 minutes.

During that time, Nelson focused his argument on the incident in totality, not just the time Chauvin had Floyd pinned to the ground, and reminded jurors of the presumption of innocence and that the prosecution had to prove Chauvin's guilt, and each element of the law, beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Nelson's argument concentrated his points on two issues: whether Chauvin's actions were authorized use of force and Floyd's cause of death.

“The standard is not what should the officer have done in these circumstances. It’s not what could the officer have done differently under these circumstances. The standard is what were the facts that were known to this officer at the precise moment he used force … and what would a reasonable police officer have done," Nelson said. 

He argued that there was "absolutely no evidence" that Chauvin "purposefully applied an unlawful force," and said he was following his training, despite several prosecution witnesses including MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo saying Chauvin's actions went against department policy and procedures.

He didn't blame Floyd's death on an overdose, but said his drug use was "significant," and also argued that Floyd's death was not the result of a single factor, but potentially a combination of them.

In rebuttal, prosecution counsel Jerry Blackwell said Nelson has misrepresented the judge's instructions on cause of death, saying that the state needs to show that Chauvin's actions was a substantial cause of death, and that there can be other factors.

"What we need to show, is that the defendant’s actions were a substantial causal factor in his death," he said. "Doesn’t have to be the only causal factor, doesn’t have to be the biggest... Just has to be one of them."

He also said Nelson was misleading during his closing statement, including the implication that the prone position is not dangerous, citing studies that have shown it can affect your breathing, and notes there was evidence of low oxygen in George Floyd's body.

After 45 witnesses during the trial, Blackwell urged the jury to consider a 46th: common sense.

"You can believe your eyes, ladies and gentlemen," Blackwell said of footage showing Floyd's death, asking why it was necessary to continue applying force on someone who was not resisting. "It was what you thought it was," he added.

He concluded his rebuttal by saying that George Floyd didn't die because his heart was too large (defense had tried to argue that an enlarged heart from heart disease was a factor in his death) but that "the reason Mr. Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin's heart is too small."

In response to Blackwell's rebuttal, Nelson accused him of prosecutorial misconduct and suggested there were grounds for a mistrial because Blackwell made repeated references to "stories" from Nelson – a word the judge told the jury to disregard – with Nelson arguing that Blackwell implied the defense was cheating.

Cahill however said he believes the comments made by Blackwell were addressed by his instructions to the jury to disregard.

Now that closing arguments are finished, the jury will be sequestered in a hotel as it debates the case. Previous cases involving officers use of force have been decided in as little as seven hours (when a jury acquitted Brian Krook of manslaughter) to 11 hours (when a jury found Mohamed Noor guilty) to five days (when the jury found Jeronimo Yanez not guilty), MPR News says.

Mitchell Hamline School of Law adjunct professor Angela Porter told MPR that sometimes sequestering a jury motivates them to make a decision faster so they can return home to their families. 

Criticism of Maxine Waters' comments

While he denied Nelson's request for a mistrial, Judge Cahill did criticize California U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters for comments she made on a visit to Brooklyn Center at the weekend.

During an interview with reporters, Waters was asked what protesters should do in the event that Chauvin is found not guilty, and she said: "Well, we’ve got to stay on the street. And we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business."

The use of "confrontational" has led to criticism by prominent Republicans in Congress that she was inciting violence, albeit some of those criticizing her also defended former President Donald Trump during his impeachment trial for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Cahill said that her comments didn't constitute the grounds for a mistrial, saying that while elected officials' failure to stop talking about the case was "abhorrent," he added that "a congresswoman's opinion really doesn't matter a whole lot."

The jury has been given instructions not to read any news about the trial while it was ongoing and during their deliberations, but Nelson argued that the attention on the case is so great it's impossible to avoid it.

He did suggest Waters' comments however could give Chauvin's team something to appeal in the event of a guilty verdict, noting: "I've give you that Congresswoman (Maxine) Waters may have given you something on appeal, that may result in this whole trial could be overturned."

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