Derek Chauvin’s murder trial, which concluded its first week of testimony on Friday, saw a wave of witnesses before the jury, with many offering deeply personal and vivid accounts of their experiences on May 25, 2020.
At times, the trial has felt unique compared to other murder cases involving officers that have come to court, partly as a result of the prosecution’s strategy, but also because of the very specific circumstances of George Floyd’s death. , the 46-year-old black man. killed during a police restriction.
The the court record can title the case Been against Derek Chauvin but, as noted by a reporter covering the trialThe first week of hearings has often felt like a literal replay of “the people v” with prosecutors working on behalf of a community traumatized by the violence they witnessed.
During opening arguments, Chief Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told the jury that they would hear from “a veritable branch of humanity,” including children, the elderly, dependents, and off-duty first responders, each of whom witnessed the death. of Floyd under Chauvin’s knees, where he was held while handcuffed for nine minutes and 29 seconds.
The results were both forensic and powerful testimonies.
Darnella Frazier, the teenager who videotaped an eyewitness to Floyd’s death, told the jury: “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad. I look at my brother. I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all black. “She added:” There have been nights where I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not interacting physically and not saving his life. “
Prosecutors asked Charles McMillian, a 61-year-old witness who confronted Chauvin after Floyd was taken away in an ambulance, to explain how it felt to see Floyd die. “I feel helpless. I don’t have a mom either. I get it.”
Genevieve Hansen, an off-duty firefighter trained in first medical response, spoke of seeing the incident and feeling powerless to intervene. “I arrived and could have provided medical assistance. That’s exactly what I should have done, ”he said in a shaky voice. She broke down describing how “totally distraught” she felt.
The testimony was crude, but it will serve a very real purpose for the prosecution, which charged Chauvin with second- and third-degree murder and manslaughter, for establishing what happened.
First, Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, has argued that he and the other officers were distracted by the crowd of bystanders during the immobilization of George Floyd, whom Nelson characterized as rebellious and chaotic. The first-hand testimony of witnesses is in complete contrast to this description.
But it is also important to compare this prosecution to other recent homicide trials involving police officers, where prosecutors have sometimes had to rely on limited or no witness testimony.
For example, in the trials of Baltimore police officers accused of killing Freddie Gray, the prosecution struggled to establish that the 25-year-old unarmed black teenager had been subjected to an alleged “rough ride” that resulted in a fatal spinal injury, based on expert evidence rather than eyewitnesses.
In the case of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man murdered in North Charleston, South Carolina, the prosecution relied on a single witness, Feidin Santana, who saw the incident and recorded it on film. The testimony of Santana’s only eyewitness was not enough to secure conviction at the trial of former officer Michael Slager, who, as the only other eyewitness, testified in his own defense. The trial ended with an undecided jury, and Slager later pleaded guilty to separate federal charges.
The fact that the prosecution is able to present a consensual point of view among a large group of passerby witnesses marks an important strength in his case.
If the first four days of passerby testimony mark the first phase of the prosecution, by the end of the fifth day it seemed clear that the attorneys are moving into their second phase, where Chauvin’s experts and former colleagues from the Minneapolis Police Department have began to testify that His use of a knee-to-neck restraint was a disproportionate use of lethal force.
“Totally unnecessary,” in the words of Lt. Richard Zimmerman, who testified against his former colleague on Friday. “If your knee is on a person’s neck, that can kill them,” he added.
The testimony is already very damaging to Chauvin’s defense. During opening arguments, Chauvin’s attorney made clear that much of his defense will focus on the suggestion that the prolonged use of the restraint was justified because Chauvin had acted in accordance with department policy.
“The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of surveillance,” Nelson told the jury.
But that point is likely to come under more strain with testimonials next week. In a rare but unprecedented move, the prosecution will call Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to testify against her former officer, adding even more weight to the argument that Chauvin’s actions were contrary to department policy. .
The third phase of the prosecution is likely to focus on the conclusion that Floyd’s death was caused by the restraint itself.
The critical component of this is the medical examiner’s report, who labeled the cause of the homicide death, caused by “cardiopulmonary arrest that complicates subdulation, immobilization and compression of the neck by law enforcement agencies.” The autopsy also noted “other significant conditions,” including fentanyl poisoning, recent methamphetamine use and signs of heart disease.
The prosecution has indicated that a pathologist from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, Dr. Lindsey Thomas, will testify in court on the findings, which will likely be challenged by defense witnesses and cross-examination.
While the document itself is administratively final, that Floyd died directly as a result of the restriction to which he was subjected, it will still be challenged at trial. And Nelson made it clear in opening arguments that he plans to cast doubt on some of his findings.
He will argue that Floyd died of cardiac arrhythmia, due to a number of complicating factors, including Floyd’s drug use.
The prosecution has already gone on the offensive to combat this argument, calling on Floyd’s partner, Courteney Ross, to testify about the couple’s battle with addiction. But it seems likely that the issue will be continually reviewed throughout the trial, which will resume again on Monday.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism