It looks like Derek Chauvin is finally accepting his reality as a convicted murderer who intentionally took the life of a handcuffed, unarmed Black man pinned to the ground by his neck for nearly nine minutes because of a cruel and illegal kneeling chokehold.
At least, that’s what appears is the case after it was widely reported that the disgraced former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd was expected to plead guilty in his federal case, which is rapidly approaching. The New York Times reported that Chauvin, 45, was due in court on Monday to change his plea, although there was no immediate confirmation that had actually happened as of Tuesday morning.
Chauvin is facing two federal charges claiming he willfully deprived Floyd of his Constitutional and civil rights via “unreasonable force,” according to a grand jury indictment.
There were reports days after Chauvin was convicted indicating that he and his legal team were working out a plea deal in the federal case. The reported plea deal at the time would have allowed Chauvin to serve his presumptive federal sentence concurrently with the 270-month state sentence he’s serving now.
The federal case accuses Chauvin of violating the civil rights of not just Floyd but also a Black 14-year-old boy who was violently restrained by the throat while being assaulted in the head with a flashlight in 2017.
The state trial
On April 20, Chauvin was unanimously found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for killing Floyd. He was immediately handcuffed and remanded to prison from the courtroom following the reading of the verdict.
The jury took about 10 and a half hours to reach a verdict since beginning deliberations following closing arguments from the prosecution and the defense.
Cahill read the verdict aloud.
Prior to Cahill reading the jury their deliberations instructions, prosecutor Steve Schleicher strategically supplemented his closing remarks with video footage of Floyd’s death that emphasized Chauvin’s refusal to stop kneeling while cavalierly putting his hands in his own pockets.
“This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher told the jury, referring to the viral video showing Floyd’s death on Memorial Day last year. “It’s exactly what you saw with your eyes. … It’s what you felt with your gut. It’s what you now know in your heart. This wasn’t policing. This was murder.”
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lead lawyer, followed that with a lengthy closing argument that attempted to place doubt about the medical examiner’s resolute declaration and testimony that Floyd’s manner of death was a homicide.
“A reasonable doubt is a doubt that is based on reason and common sense,” Nelson said before adding later in his closing arguments: “This was an authorized use of force, as ugly as it might be, and this was reasonable doubt.”
The closing remarks were so lengthy, in fact, that Cahill had to intervene in order to allow the jury a chance to eat lunch after 2 p.m. local time.
The defense and prosecution officially rested their cases after Chauvin, 45, spoke for the first time during the trial to officially decline the opportunity to testify in his own defense. That prompted the prosecution to re-examine one of its star witnesses — pulmonologist Dr. Martin Tobin — in an effort to further discredit unproven theories offered up one day earlier by pathologist Dr. David Fowler testifying for the defense about Floyd’s cause of death.
After Cahill warned of a potential mistrial if Tobin “even mentions” the existence of tests that the prosecution failed to disclose in a timely fashion showing that Floyd had a normal carbon monoxide level. Doing so, Cahill said, would prejudice Chauvin. Still, Tobin cited it almost as soon as he took the stand, prompting Cahill to call an immediate sidebar, but not calling a mistrial.
Fowler previously testified that Floyd could have died from a number of factors that had nothing to do with Chauvin’s knee, including introducing the wild possibility that carbon monoxide poisoning from a police vehicle idling played an outsized role in the death. The prosecution quickly debunked Flowler’s theories while cross-examining him, but they still did their due diligence by calling Tobin to the stand to have an actual expert address add clarity and context to those claims.
Prosecutors rested their case after calling at least 40 witnesses.
Chauvin’s attorneys have been clinging to their narrative that Floyd died from anything other than excessive force, including a possible fentanyl overdose. Among the defense’s witnesses was a former officer who interacted with Floyd during a 2019 arrest during his struggle with substance abuse, a paramedic who administered aid to Floyd during the 2019 arrest, and a woman who was with Floyd on the day he was killed by police.
Cahill told jurors the evidence presented from the previous arrest was not to serve “as evidence of the character of George Floyd,” but to show the effects of opioids on the body.
Barry Brodd, a former police officer and use-of-force expert called by the defense, attempted to poke holes in the prosecution’s theory, stating that he believed Chauvin’s actions were “justified” and objectively reasonable because he feels Floyd was resisting arrest.
“I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified, was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interaction with Mr. Floyd,” Brodd said.
A second disturbing testimony came when Officer Peter Chang, who also responded to the scene on May 25, told the jury that he was “concerned for the officers’ safety,” in reference to the crowd that gathered. Chang’s body camera footage was submitted as evidence, showing a different vantage point.
Chang also said he was worried because the crowd became “very aggressive.”
Judge Cahill denied the defense’s request to sequester the jury in fear that the nearby police shooting of Daunte Wright could sway their opinion.
Philonise Floyd, Floyd’s brother, took the stand on Day 11 of the trial to help provide the jury with evidence pertaining to “spark of life doctrine” testimony.
Philonise understandably became emotional when talking about his brother and their upbringing in North Carolina. Philonise stated that George was known to be a “mommas boy,” and became inconsolable after losing their mother in 2018. The testimony harkened back to one of Floyd’s last moments where he cried for his mother as he took his last breaths under the weight of Chauvin’s knee.
Two more experts testified on behalf of the defense, adding that Floyd’s death was not caused by a drug overdose and that Chauvin’s used an “unacceptable or reasonable use of force,” as he restrained Floyd.
Earlier, the second week of the Chauvin’s murder trial concluded April 9 with testimony from more medical experts regarding Floyd’s cause of death, including Dr. Andrew Baker, the medical examiner for Minnesota’s Hennepin County, who told the courtroom that fentanyl and heart disease did not directly contribute to Floyd dying.
“In my opinion, the law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of those heart conditions,” Baker stated early in his testimony.
Baker ruled Floyd’s death a homicide, caused by “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”
Other expert witnesses for the prosecution testified about whether Chauvin’s use of excessive force fell within the MPD’s policy.
The defense continued a line of questioning based on whether George Floyd’s reported drug use caused his demise and if the crowd restricted Chauvin’s ability to render Floyd aid.
Many observed that the “blue wall of silence” may be crumbling Chauvin at the conclusion of Day 8 following expert testimony from Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant who took the stand for the prosecution and said that after reviewing video evidence, he concluded that Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for the entirety of the time of when officers restrained Floyd on the ground, to when EMT’s arrived.
Controversy also ensued over defense lawyer Eric Nelson who alleged that Floyd yelled out “I ate too many drugs” during his arrest. Multiple witnesses told the defense that they could not make out that phrase on the video.
On social media, many noted that the audio was too difficult to describe and admonished the defense for inferring something that was not definite. Observers believe that Floyd is actually saying, “I ain’t do no drugs.”
The second week of Chauvin’s murder trial included two important testimonies regarding the medical procedures, or the possibilities of the lack of procedures, administered at the scene of George Floyd‘s death, as well as whether Chauvin operated within the policies regarding the use of excessive force.
Dr. Bradford Langenfeld, the medical professional who pronounced Floyd dead after trying to resuscitate him opened Day 6 and testified that Floyd’s heart most likely stopped due to a lack of oxygen. Langenfeld said that when Floyd was brought to Hennepin County Medical Center, he was not made aware of any efforts made at the scene by bystanders or police to resuscitate. Langenfeld said the chance of a patient’s survival goes down 10 to 15 percent every minute CPR is not performed.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, a veteran of the force after joining the Minneapolis Police Department in 1989, said he believed Chauvin’s actions directly violated the standing policy.
“That action is not de-escalation,” Arradondo said. “And when we talk about the framework of our sanctity of life and when we talk about our principles and the values that we have, that action goes contrary to what we are talking about.”
Day 4 of Chuavin’s trial brought forth multiple new revelations about Floyd’s personal life as well as the protocol that the former Minneapolis police officer accused of murder was expected to follow.
Courteney Ross, who identified herself as Floyd’s girlfriend, provided poignant testimony about their relationship and offered crucial insight into her drug use. She said they used opioid pills together and discussed how they tried and failed on multiple occasions to break their addictions.
Ross painted a picture of Floyd that showed a God-fearing, kind and loving family man who was battling his own demons — the antithesis of how the defense is portraying him. Calling Ross to the stand was a successful exercise in both humanizing Floyd and pushing back against the narrative of a violent drug addict, legal analysts said.
After two EMT’s testified about arriving at the scene to find Chauvin and other officers on top of Floyd, the police supervisor who was working May 25 took the stand and addressed the controversial knee restraint the defendant employed.
David Pleoger, who has since retired from the Minneapolis Police Department, said Chauvin initially told him Floyd was going “crazy [and] wouldn’t go in the back of the squad.” But then Pleoger dealt the latest blow to the defense when he undermined their entire strategy of blaming Floyd for his own death.
“When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended their restraint,” Pleoger testified after the prosecution asked him whether Chauvin used excessive force by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
That testimony followed prosecutors playing yet additional video that was previously unseen to the public, prompting a series of emotional breakdowns from witnesses who provided damning testimony against the defendant.
Among the revelations presented in court was Chauvin’s stated justification of kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes — the action that led to the former Minneapolis police officer’s murder charge.
One of the most compelling witnesses to take the stand was 61-year-old Charles McMillian, a community resident who did not know Floyd but carried on a brief conversation with him during the fateful arrest last May 25. McMillian, who was shown on surveillance video as well as bodycam footage from the multiple officers involved, pleaded with Floyd to calm down. As the footage was replayed in court, McMillian broke down crying and needed to take a brief break before his testimony resumed because he said he felt “helpless.”
Another witness, Christopher Martin, was working as a cashier at the Cup Foods store where Floyd is accused of trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill. Martin testified that he carried “guilt” with him because he is the one who notified the store’s manager of the bill before police were notified.
“If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided,” Martin said.
Martin and McMillian were just the latest witnesses who have played a crucial, yet heartbreaking role for the prosecution in the murder trial. Their testimonies came one day after other eyewitnesses, including first responders and local residents who watched as Floyd took his final breath.
Former MMA fighter Donald Williams previously supplied compelling testimony with a contentious exchange with Chauvin’s attorney.
During the questioning, Nelson attempted to drill down Williams, who thwarted the attempt at every turn. Social media users marveled at the harsh dual reality of Williams’ restraint while reliving the trauma of watching a man die.
Williams was seen emotional on the stand after playback of the 911 call he made reporting that he “witnessed a murder.”
Darnella Frazier, the Minneapolis teen who filmed the chilling footage of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, recounted her daily trauma in the courtroom.
“There have been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life,” she said. “But it’s like not what I should have done, it’s what he (Chauvin) should have done.”
In another emotional moment, Frazier’s nine-year-old cousin took the bench and shared she was disappointed in Chauvin’s response when she saw him kneeling on Floyd.
And an off-duty firefighter said that she felt obligated to stay around the crime scene after Floyd died in order to protect witnesses from the police.
Day 1 got off to a fast start with the prosecution and defense making their dueling opening arguments, making it apparent the different directions each legal team prefers. The day saw a couple of compelling witnesses as well as one underwhelming one while each side tries to build a case that fits their respective narratives.
For the defense, its plan is clear: To blame Floyd’s death on the drugs they say he was on at the time of his arrest and downplay Chauvin’s involvement, which came in the violent form of a knee applying pressure to the unarmed, handcuffed Black man’s neck as he was pinned facedown on a street. Chauvin’s defense lawyers say he was simply abiding by his training and should not be held accountable for enforcing the law the way he was instructed to.
The prosecution countered those claims by immediately showing the jury the video of Floyd’s arrest, including new footage, seemingly frame by frame to hammer home their stance that Chauvin intentionally killed the man who was only suspected of passing a counterfeit bill, a decidedly nonviolent offense.
Several witnesses were called, including a 911 dispatcher who was able to witness Floyd’s death in real-time from surveillance footage filming across the street from the scene. The dispatcher, Jena Scurry, she said at one point she was concerned that the screen froze — a reference to how long Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck while casually putting his hands in his pockets as onlookers warned of impending death.
Another witness, Alysha Oyler, was working across the street at a gas station when Chauvin and four other Minneapolis cops tried to arrest Floyd. Oyler eventually got closer and recorded the scene on her phone. However, despite her vantage point, Oyler repeatedly said she couldn’t remember specifics and laughed several times awkwardly during moments that were absent of humor. Her testimony didn’t seem to contribute much, if anything, to the prosecution as the defense likely reveled in her court appearance.
The final witness of Day 1, however, was widely credited for his testimony that fell in line with the seeming consensus that Chauvin knew what he was doing and wanted to kill Floyd. Donald Williams III, a mixed martial artist who the prosecution established as an expert witness, described the neck restraint employed by Chauvin as deadly. He was one of the people who gathered at the scene outside of the store where the arrest was taking place and verbally warned all of the officers, including Chauvin, that Floyd would die if he didn’t ease up the pressure from his neck. In what seemed like a pivotal moment in the trial even though it was only the first day, Williams said he saw Floyd “slowly fade away.”
Jury selection for the case was completed last week.
The fate of Chauvin, who was seen on video casually applying what appeared to be deadly pressure to Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes on May 25, now rests in the hands of a 15-person panel that includes three Black men, one Black woman and two women identified as being of “mixed-race.” The other nine jurors, including alternates, are white.
Members of Floyd’s family met with civil rights leaders for a prayer service that included calls for peace during and after the trial.
“For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, we are going to take a knee in front of the courthouse to show the world how long it took for Chauvin to have his knee on that neck,” Sharpton said. “People didn’t understand how long that was,” he continued. “Until they stood.”
Multiple references to the video of Floyd’s arrest were made during the vigil, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.
“I have faith that he will get convicted,” Floyd’s brother Philonise said of Chauvin. “Just like everybody who’s seen that video because the video is the proof.
However, yet another video of Chauvin and Floyd will also be relevant in the trial. That other footage came from a separate encounter between the two men in 2019 during a different traffic stop in which Floyd was accused of drug possession. While critics argue that the footage is irrelevant, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill sided with defense attorneys “that the incident was relevant in that it offers proof of how Floyd’s body responded to drugs he admitted he had taken,” the Washington Post reported.
Cahill has made multiple rulings that have already affected the case’s trajectory, including previously denying a motion to delay or move the trial.
“Unfortunately, I think the pretrial publicity in this case will continue no matter how long we continue it. Perhaps some of it may, with time, be forgotten by people,” Cahill said at the time. “And as far as change of venue, I do not think that that would give the defendant any kind of a fair trial beyond what we are doing here today.”
That ruling followed Chauvin’s attorneys filing the motion as a result of a $27 million Minneapolis city settlement for George Floyd’s family.
Two jurors were ultimately dismissed over concerns that their impartiality could be tainted by that multi-million dollar settlement. One juror was a white man in his 30s while another was a Hispanic man in his 20s. The dismissal of two jurors is notable but also hints that the perceived fallout over the settlement did not have as large of an effect as thought.
“I don’t think there is any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity on this case,” Cahill said for that ruling.
Cahill also reinstated the third-degree murder charges that he previously dismissed against Chauvin. That charge has been added to the second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter Chauvin was already facing.
The additional charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 25 years in prison and increases the likelihood of a conviction on at least one of the charges.
Cahill’s decision was a reversal from his ruling in October to drop the charges on a legal technicality. For the third-degree murder charges to stick, the law requires that someone cause the death of another person while committing an act inherently dangerous to others. After an appeals court ruled against Cahill’s decision in October, Cahill changed his stance and reinstated the charge.
Jury selection was initially paused on March 8 to allow Cahill to weigh that additional charge.
Everybody can agree that justice for Floyd is the primary objective of Chauvin’s murder trial. But whether that justice can actually be achieved is a completely different story — even with the damning evidence of a viral video showing Chauvin, hands in his pockets, almost shrugging while staring indifferently at witnesses warning that he was killing Floyd, and the momentum of a racial reckoning sparked by the death on Memorial Day.
If you’re looking for footage of the killing, you won’t find it here.
But that fateful moment has prompted a wave of protests demanding change to policing in America in order to invest in the Black and brown communities that are disproportionately affected by law enforcement.
Earlier this month, the House passed the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act, sweeping legislation that reimagines how police departments operate through accountability and transparency.
Most relevant to Chauvin’s murder trial, the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act aims to hold police accountable in part by collecting data about officers accused of misconduct and worse behavior. Chauvin, who turned 45 on March 19 and has pleaded not guilty, has a history of using brutal neck restraints, other suspects have claimed.
Advocates say Chauvin shouldn’t even have been working as a police officer on Memorial Day considering his violent past. The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office is hoping to introduce these claims as evidence of a pattern of Chauvin’s renegade style of policing that also appeared to kill Floyd.
Adding insult to literal injury, Chauvin has a notable history of being placed on leave for officer-involved shootings and he remains the subject of “a dozen police conduct complaints that resulted in no disciplinary action.” During his 19-year-career, Chauvin was praised for valor by his department, even after shooting a Black man back in 2008 who survived the shooting.
Cahill in October upheld the most serious murder charge against Chauvin in Floyd’s death.
Chauvin, who began his career with the Minneapolis Police Academy in October 2001, was bailed out in October on a $1 million bond.
Even though three other Minneapolis police officers were assisting Chauvin when Floyd died, Chauvin will face trial alone. Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng — the other cops with Floyd — will be tried together, apart from Chauvin, in a trial scheduled to begin in August. The three of them stand charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
This article originally appeared on NewsOne