The trial of Derek Chauvin is winding down as day 16 saw both the prosecution and defense lay out their closing arguments.
According to the New York Times, prosecutor Steve Schleicher was the first to address the jury. He opened his argument by recounting in vivid, tragic detail the arrest that ended with George Floyd’s death. Throughout his closing arguments, Schleicher made a consistent appeal for Floyd’s humanity. He showed the jury pictures of Floyd as a child, recounted his struggles with drug addiction, and reminded the jury that Floyd wasn’t the one on trial. “He didn’t get a trial when he was alive, and he is not on trial here,” Schleicher said.
Schleicher’s argument largely focused on Chauvin’s indifference and how he had multiple opportunities to prevent Floyd’s death.
From the New York Times:
The prosecutor said Mr. Chauvin had shown “indifference” to Mr. Floyd’s life by ignoring his repeated complaints that he could not breathe, as well as demands by bystanders to get off of Mr. Floyd and an officer’s question about whether the police should move Mr. Floyd to another position.
“He could have listened to bystanders; he could have listened to fellow officers; he could have listened to his own training,” Mr. Schleicher said. “He knew better, he just didn’t do better.”
Mr. Schleicher emphasized to jurors that they were the only ones who had the power to convict Mr. Chauvin and said that they had a duty to do so. As he concluded his argument, he showed a photograph of Mr. Floyd one more time for the jurors.
“This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video,” Mr. Schleicher said. “It is exactly that. You can believe your eyes. It’s exactly what you believed; it’s exactly what you saw with your eyes; it’s exactly what you knew. It’s what you felt in your gut. It’s what you now know in your heart.”
“This wasn’t policing, this was murder,” Schleicher ultimately concluded. “The defendant is guilty of all three counts. All of them. And there’s no excuse.”
Defense attorney Eric Nelson then took the stand for what was a lengthy closing argument, clocking in at over two and a half hours. It wasn’t easy to follow, and at one point he unnecessarily compared trying a case to “baking chocolate chip cookies.”
That’s not how I would describe defending an alleged murder, but sure man.
He argued that Chauvin behaved like a reasonable police officer and was justified in the force he used. Nelson tried to argue that Floyd was actively resisting and told jurors that “The nine minutes and 29 seconds ignores the previous 16 minutes and 59 seconds.”
Outside of resisting getting into the cruiser, Floyd was largely responsive and compliant with everything the officers asked of him in the body camera footage that was shown throughout the trial. Nelson made the point that the defense doesn’t have to prove anything; that burden lies with the prosecution. While he doesn’t have to prove anything, they have to have an effective argument, and most of the defense’s arguments felt like they were grasping at straws.
Whether it was calling into question the dangers of being placed in the prone position or addressing Floyd’s preexisting health conditions and drug use, none of it really did a great job, in this writer’s opinion, of establishing reasonable doubt; especially when factoring in all the evidence that’s been presented so far. Nelson concluded his argument by telling the jury that he believes Chauvin should be found not guilty on all accounts.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell then took the stand for a rebuttal. He said that while there were 45 witnesses called to the stand, a 46th witness existed in the form of common sense. He cited the 9-year-old bystander who yelled for Chauvin to get off of Floyd as evidence that even a child could tell Chauvin’s actions were endangering Floyd. Blackwell argued that for all the threads the defense tried to pull at, the facts of the case were quite simple.
Blackwell’s rebuttal targeted the points Nelson tried to make, particularly that the use of force was necessary. He used a chart to show all the days that Floyd managed to survive with his preexisting conditions until his encounter with Chauvin.
“You are told, for example, that Mr. Floyd died, that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big. You heard that testimony. And now having seen all the evidence and having heard on 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,” Blackwell said as he ended the rebuttal.
Chauvin’s fate now lies in the hands of the jury. It’s unclear how long it could take for the jury to come back with a verdict, though the National Guard has been called into Minneapolis and some schools have closed in-person learning in anticipation of whatever they decide.