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Derek Chauvin Trial Is In Jury's Hands After Both Sides Make Closing Arguments

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Twelve Minnesotans are now deciding what happens to the ex-police officer charged with the death of George Floyd.

The jurors heard closing arguments in the trial of Derek Chauvin Monday.

"When George Floyd gave his final words to the defendant, 'Please, I can't breathe. I can't breathe,' crying out for help to the man in uniform, the defendant stayed right on top of him, ignored it," prosecutor Steve Schleicher said. "Continued doing what he was doing, facing the crowd, grinding his knee."

"No crime is committed if a police officer's actions were justified by the police officer's use of reasonable force in the line of duty in effecting a lawful arrest or preventing an escape from custody," defense attorney Eric Nelson said. "The kind and degree of force a police officer may lawfully use in executing his duties is limited by what a reasonable officer in the same situation would believe to be necessary."

The two sides split most significantly on the cause of death. The prosecution argued that all the law requires is that the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that Chauvin's knee restraint was a "substantial cause" of Floyd's death.

"It's what you felt in your gut. It's what you now know in your heart," Schleicher said. "This wasn't policing, this was murder. The defendant is guilty of all three counts. All of them."

"In fact, it is so simple a child could understand it. In fact, a child did understand it when the 9-year-old girl said, 'Get off of him.' That's how simple it was. 'Get off of him.' Common sense," prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said.

The defense stressed that Chauvin did what any reasonable officer would have done and said it was wrong to look only at nine minutes and 29 seconds when Floyd was on the ground.

In a departure from how he has looked throughout the trial, Chauvin was maskless and looked directly at his attorney throughout the three-hour defense closing statement. For the rest of the testimony and the prosecution closing he was head down, masked and taking extensive notes.

Derek Chauvin during closing arguments
(credit: CBS)

"You have to take into account that officers are human beings, capable of making mistakes in highly stressful situations," Nelson said. "In this case, the totality of the circumstances that were known to a reasonable police officer in the precise moment force was used demonstrates that this was an authorized use of force ... The state has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and therefore Mr. Chauvin should be found not guilty of all counts."

While Nelson's summation was lengthy, it was also complex. And that may be why Blackwell came back with this statement in his rebuttal argument. He said this case is not that complicated and that, in the state's view, Chauvin caused Floyd's death.

The line he left the jury with was this: "You were told, for example, that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big. You heard that testimony. And now having seen all the evidence, having heard all the evidence, you know the truth. And the truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin's heart was too small."

The defense at the end of the day moved for a mistrial. One of the reasons given was statements by California Congresswoman Maxine Waters at a Brooklyn Center protest two nights ago. The judge did not grant a mistrial, but indicated the comments may be relevant to an appeal.

"I'm aware that Congresswoman Waters was talking specifically about this trial and about the unacceptability of anything less than a murder conviction and talking about being confrontational, but you can submit the press articles about that," Judge Peter Cahill said. "This goes back to what I've been saying from the beginning. I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law."

Waters said at the protest, "We have got to get more confrontational. We have got to make sure that they know we mean business."

The defense also made a motion for a mistrial for prosecutorial misconduct, accusing the prosecution of belittling them. The judge denied that.

Chauvin faces three charges:

  • Second-degree unintentional murder means causing death without intent by committing a felony.
  • Second-degree manslaughter is causing death by unreasonable risk.
  • Third-degree murder means causing death by an "eminently dangerous" act, showing a "depraved mind."
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