A former Minneapolis police officer was tried Monday for George Floyd’s death, sparking outrage across the United States and beyond.
A jury of 14 people will hear the case: eight white and six black or multiracial, depending on the court. Two of the 14 will be substitutes. The judge has not said which will be the alternates and which will deliberate the case.
Floyd, 46, died in May 2020 after Derek Chauvin held him to the ground with one knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes despite the black man screaming that he couldn’t breathe.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with second degree manslaughter, third degree manslaughter and manslaughter.
Involuntary second degree murder is punishable by up to 40 years in prison in Minnesota, with up to 25 years for third degree murder, but sentencing guidelines suggest that Chauvin would face 12 and a half years in prison if convicted of any of the charges. The homicide carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
‘Until his life was squeezed out’
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told jurors in his opening statement that Chauvin “didn’t budge, didn’t get up” even after Floyd said 27 times that he couldn’t breathe and froze.
“He put his knees on his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath, not ladies and gentlemen, even life itself, was squeezed out of him,” Blackwell said.
He said passerby witnesses would include a Minneapolis Fire Department first responder who wanted to administer the relief. He said Chauvin pointed at Mace.
“I wanted to check his pulse, check on Mr. Floyd’s well-being,” Blackwell said. “She did her best to intervene. When she approached Mr. Chauvin … Mr. Chauvin took his mace and pointed it in his direction. She couldn’t help.”
Legal experts said they expected prosecutors to show a passerby video of the incident to the jury early on.
Almost all jurors selected during more than two weeks of questioning said they had seen at least parts of the video, and several acknowledged that it gave them at least a somewhat negative view of Chauvin. But they said they could put that aside.
Outside court on the Monday before opening statements, the Floyd family’s attorney Ben Crump said the trial would be a test of “whether the United States is going to live up to the Declaration of Independence.” And he criticized the idea that it would be a difficult test for the jurors.
Floyd’s family and supporters also knelt before the opening of the trial outside the courthouse for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time that Chauvin kept Floy on the ground until he went limp.
The trial is expected to last about four weeks in the downtown Minneapolis courthouse, which has been fortified with concrete barriers, fences and barbed wire. City and state leaders are determined to prevent a repeat of the damaging riots that followed Floyd’s death, and National Guard troops have already mobilized.
The key questions in the trial will be whether Chauvin caused Floyd’s death and whether his actions were reasonable.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, was expected to use his opening statement to tell the jury that medical testimony and use of force experts will show a different opinion. Nelson has made it clear that the defense will raise the issue that Floyd ingested drugs prior to his arrest, seeking to convince the jury that he was at least partially responsible for his death.
The county coroner’s autopsy noted fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system, but listed the cause of death as “cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating neck subdulation, immobilization and compression.”
“This case for us is a failure, because we know the video is the proof, it’s all you need,” Floyd’s brother Philonise said Monday on NBC’s “Today” show. “The guy was kneeling on my brother’s neck … a guy he swore to protect. He killed my brother in broad daylight. That was a modern lynching. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism