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As the jury reaches a decision, Joe Biden says he's 'praying for the right verdict' in Derek Chauvin trial

The verdict will be read in a Minneapolis courtroom at 9.30pm Irish time.

Updated Apr 20th 2021, 8:55 PM

george-floyd-murder-trial Chauvin (right) telling the judge he would not be testifying. Source: PA Images

THE JURY IN the trial of a former police officer charged over the death of George Floyd has reached a verdict.

The verdict will be read in a Minneapolis courtroom at 3.30pm Central Time (9.30pm Irish time), the court said.

Their decision will follow what is likely the most-watched criminal trial in the world this year.

Derek Chauvin is accused of the murder of George Floyd during a May 2020 arrest.

It was a death that sparked global protests and laid bare racial tensions in the US. 

A video of the incident showed Chauvin pinning the deceased to the road using his knee on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes. 

The jury resumed deliberations on this morning after spending a few hours on Monday discussing the case behind closed doors.

Speaking about the trial this afternoon, US President Joe Biden has said he is “praying the verdict is the right verdict” in the trial. 

Biden told reporters that he was only weighing in on the trial because the jury in the case had been sequestered.

He confirmed that he called Floyd’s family yesterday and said he “can only imagine the pressure and anxiety they’re feeling”. 

Biden’s intervention comes despite a plea from the sitting judge for elected officials not to comment on the case.

After closing arguments yesterday, Judge Peter Cahill rejected a defence request for a mistrial based in part on comments by California representative Maxine Waters that protesters could get more confrontational if there is no guilty verdict.

The judge told Chauvin’s lawyer:

I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch.

Closing arguments 

Chauvin, 45, is charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. He denies the charges. 

Three other former police officers — Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng — also face charges in connection with Floyd’s death. They are to be tried separately later in the year.

Forty five witnesses were called during Chauvin’s trial, 38 for the prosecution and seven for the defence.

During closing arguments, prosecutors said Chauvin squeezed the life out of Mr Floyd by pinning his knee against his neck last May, ignoring bystanders, his own training and common sense.

The defence argued that the now-fired white officer acted reasonably and the 46-year-old black man died of an underlying heart condition and illegal drug use.

The jury is made up of six white women, three black men, three white men, two mixed race women and one black woman.

Two members of the jury will be excused by Judge Peter Cahill after closing arguments and the other 12 will be sequestered for deliberations.

What do the charges mean and what are the sentences?

The key questions are whether Chauvin caused Floyd’s death and whether his actions were reasonable.

For the unintentional second-degree murder charge, the jury must believe that Chauvin’s conduct was a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death, and that Chauvin was committing felony assault at the time.

For third-degree murder, they must believe that Chauvin’s actions caused Floyd’s death, and were reckless and without regard for human life.

The manslaughter charge requires proof that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death through negligence that created an unreasonable risk.

Unintentional second-degree murder is punishable by up to 40 years in prison in Minnesota.

Third-degree murder carries up to 25 years but sentencing guidelines suggest that Chauvin would face 12.5 years in prison if convicted on either charge.

Manslaughter has a maximum 10-year sentence.

What evidence will they be considering?

Prosecution 

Opening statement

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell showed jurors the crucial footage at the earliest opportunity, during opening statements, after telling them the number to remember was nine minutes and 29 seconds — the amount of time Chauvin had Floyd pinned to the pavement.

Blackwell said Chauvin “didn’t let up” even after a handcuffed Floyd said 27 times that he could not breathe and went limp.

“He put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath – no, ladies and gentlemen -until the very life was squeezed out of him,” the prosecutor said in his opening statement.  

Witnesses

george-floyd-murder-trial Source: PA Images

The first witness was Minneapolis police dispatcher Jena Scurry, who said she saw part of Floyd’s arrest unfolding on a city surveillance camera and was so disturbed she called a duty sergeant. Scurry said she became concerned because the officers had not moved after several minutes.

“You can call me a snitch if you want to,” she said in her call to the sergeant, which was played in court.

She said she would not normally call about the use of force because it was beyond the scope of her duties, but “my instincts were telling me that something is wrong”.

Among the 38 witnesses who testified for the prosecution were some of the bystanders who watched Floyd’s arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 note to buy a pack of cigarettes.

Darnella Frazier, the teenager who took the video that went viral, said Floyd was “scared” and “begging for his life.”

“It wasn’t right. He was suffering,” Frazier told the trial. 

Genevieve Hansen, 27, an off-duty firefighter, said Chauvin and other officers rebuffed her offers to provide medical attention to Floyd.

“There was a man being killed,” Hansen said, who testified in dress uniform and detailed her emergency medical technician training.

I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities. And this human was denied that right.

Donald Williams, 33, said he called 911 to report a “murder” after Floyd was taken away in an ambulance.

Expert medical evidence

Source: ABC News/YouTube

Dr Martin Tobin, a Chicago-based lung and critical care specialist who is from Kilkenny and educated in UCD, told the trial that Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen. 

He testified that Floyd’s breathing while he was being held down by Chauvin and other officers was too shallow to take in enough oxygen, which in turn damaged his brain and caused an abnormal heart rhythm that made his heart stop. 

Analysing a graphic presentation of the three officers pinning Floyd down, Tobin said Chauvin’s knee was “virtually on the neck for the vast majority of time”.

He said it was “more than 90% of the time in my calculations”.

He said it appeared that Floyd was getting enough oxygen for about the first five minutes to keep his brain alive because he was still speaking.

But Tobin explained to jurors what happens as the space in the airway narrows, saying breathing then becomes “enormously more difficult”, adding that it would be worse than “breathing through a drinking straw”.

Tobin gave evidence that if the hypopharynx, the bottom part of the throat, becomes totally obstructed, it takes just seconds to reduce the level of oxygen to where it would result “in either a seizure or a heart attack”. 

Expert police evidence

george-floyd-murder-trial Security footage (left) and bystander video of the arrest. Source: Pool Video Via Court Tv/Ny Times

The head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide division said that Chauvin’s decision to kneel on Floyd’s neck as he was handcuffed was  “top-tier, deadly force” and “totally unnecessary”

“If your knee is on a person’s neck, that can kill him,” said Lieutenant Richard Zimmerman, adding that when a person is handcuffed in the prone position, “your muscles are pulling back … and if you’re laying on your chest, that’s constricting your breathing even more”.

Zimmerman also testified that, once Floyd was handcuffed, he saw “no reason for why the officers felt they were in danger, if that’s what they felt, and that’s what they would have to feel to be able to use that kind of force”. 

Closing statement 

During closing arguments, prosecutors said Chauvin squeezed the life out of Mr Floyd by pinning his knee against his neck last May, ignoring bystanders, his own training and common sense.

Chauvin “had to know” he was squeezing the life out of Mr Floyd as he cried over and over that he could not breathe and finally fell silent, a prosecutor told the jury during closing arguments.

“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” Steve Schleicher said, referring to the video of Mr Floyd pinned to the pavement with Chauvin’s knee on or close to his neck last May for up to nine minutes, 29 seconds, as bystanders yelled at the white officer to get off.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said questions about the use of force and cause of death are “so simple that a child can understand it”.

“In fact, a child did understand it, when the nine-year-old girl said, ‘Get off of him’,” Mr Blackwell said, referring to a young witness who objected to what she saw. “That’s how simple it was. ‘Get off of him’. Common sense.”

Schleicher rejected the drug overdose argument, as well as the contention that police were distracted by hostile onlookers, that Mr Floyd had “superhuman” strength from a state of agitation known as “excited delirium”, and that he suffered possible carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust fumes.

The prosecutor sarcastically referred to the idea that it was heart disease that killed Mr Floyd as an “amazing coincidence”.

“Is that common sense or is that nonsense?” Schleicher asked the racially diverse jury.

Schleicher also noted that Chauvin was required to use his training to provide medical care to Mr Floyd but ignored bystanders, rebuffed help from an off-duty paramedic and rejected a suggestion from another officer to roll Mr Floyd on to his side.

“He could have listened to the bystanders. He could have listened to fellow officers. He could have listened to his own training. He knew better. He just didn’t do better,” said Mr Schleicher, adding that even a nine-year-old bystander knew it was dangerous.

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“Conscious indifference. Indifference. Do you want to know what indifference is and sounds like?” Schleicher asked before playing a video of Chauvin replying “Uh-huh” several times as Mr Floyd cried out.

The prosecution took about an hour and 45 minutes to make its case, with Schleicher saying at the conclusion: “This wasn’t policing. This was murder.” 

Defence 

Opening statement

Chauvin’s defence argues that the officer acted within his training and that drug use and underlying health problems contributed to Floyd’s death.  

Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson argued: “Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career.”

Floyd was resisting arrest, and Chauvin arrived to assist other officers who were struggling to get him into a squad car as the crowd around them grew larger and more hostile, Nelson said.

Witnesses

Chauvin’s lawyers argued that he and his fellow officers found themselves in an increasingly tense and distracting situation, with the growing crowd of onlookers becoming agitated and menacing over Floyd’s treatment.

Under cross-examination from Nelson, Frazier said bystanders became increasingly upset by what they were seeing and got louder and louder, “more so as he was becoming more unresponsive”.

But when Frazier was asked by a prosecutor whether she saw violence anywhere on the scene, she replied: “Yes, from the cops. From Chauvin, and from officer Thao.”

Chauvin decided that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify in his own defence. 

Expert medical evidence

A retired forensic pathologist said that Floyd died of a sudden heart rhythm problem due to his heart disease while being restrained by police.

The evidence from Dr David Fowler, a former chief medical examiner for the state of Maryland who was educated in South Africa, contradicted several experts who said Floyd succumbed to a lack of oxygen.

Fowler said that the fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system, and possible carbon monoxide poisoning from a car exhaust, were contributing factors.

He said Floyd’s heart disease included high blood pressure and narrowing of the arteries.

“All of those combined to cause Mr Floyd’s death,” he said on the second day of the defence case.  

Expert police evidence

Use-of-force expert Barry Brodd, a former California police officer, testified that Chauvin was justified in pinning George Floyd to the ground because he kept struggling. 

Brodd stoutly defended Chauvin’s actions, testifying that it’s “easy to sit and judge … an officer’s conduct.”

“It’s more of a challenge to, again, put yourself in the officer’s shoes to try to make an evaluation through what they’re feeling, what they’re sensing, the fear they have, and then make a determination.” 

Closing statement

The defence argued that the officer acted reasonably and the 46-year-old black man died of an underlying heart condition and illegal drug use.

Under the law, police are given certain latitude to use force and their actions are supposed to be judged according to what a “reasonable officer” in the same situation would have done — a point the defence stressed repeatedly.

Chauvin lawyer Eric Nelson argued that Chauvin did what any “reasonable” police officer would have done after finding himself in a “dynamic” and “fluid” situation involving a large man struggling with three police officers.

The defence contends not only that Chauvin acted reasonably but that 46-year-old Mr Floyd died of heart disease and illegal drug use, not Chauvin’s actions.

Nelson noted that officers who first went to the shop where Mr Floyd allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit 20 dollar note were already struggling with Mr Floyd when Chauvin arrived as back-up. The lawyer also noted that the first two officers on the scene were rookies and that police had been told Mr Floyd might be on drugs.

“A reasonable police officer understands the intensity of the struggle,” Nelson said, saying Chauvin’s body-worn camera and his police badge were knocked off his chest.

Nelson said the prosecution brought in experts to give evidence that Mr Floyd died because of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, while the person who performed the post-mortem, the county medical examiner, reached a different finding.

Hennepin County medical examiner Dr Andrew Baker, who ruled the death a homicide, said Mr Floyd’s heart gave out because of the way police held him down. He listed Mr Floyd’s drug use and underlying health problems as contributing factors.

Mr Nelson also showed the jury pictures of pills found in Mr Floyd’s car and remnants discovered in the patrol car. Fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in Mr Floyd’s system.

Nelson, in his closing argument, played portions of bystander video that showed the increasingly agitated onlookers shouting at Chauvin to get off Mr Floyd’s neck. He said officers may have determined it was not safe to render medical aid to Mr Floyd in that environment.

- Additional reporting PA

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Rónán Duffy

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