Watch the Chauvin trial's first day of proceedings live below:
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Update (1240ET): We're only two hours into the trial and already prosecutors have shown the video of the fatal encounter that led to Floyd's death. The video, captured outside the Cup Foods Convenience Store, will almost certainly be played many more times, as it is expected to play a critical role in the prosecution's strategy.
Jerry Blackwell, a private attorney who has represented megacorps like Walmart and who has joined the AG's office on a pro-bono basis solely to prosecute this case, delivered the opening statement for the prosecution.
Notably, as the statement began, Blackwell, one of the prosecutors, says the “most important” number jurors will hear in the trial is 9 minutes and 29 seconds, which is the time that Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck. That time is longer than the incorrect time of 8 minutes and 46 seconds that was initially reported and became a rallying cry for protesters.
Blackwell argued that while what would be considered a fatal amount of fentanyl was found in Floyd's system after his death, that amount wouldn't have been fatal to Floyd, who had lived with his opioid addiction for "many years" and in that time developed a tolerance.
While there may be surprises over the course of the trial for viewers, the lawyers on both sides know exactly what is coming and what witnesses will say. Minnesota has strict rules that require both sides to turn over evidence and testimony before trial.
The defense is arguing that Floyd's death was caused by underlying medical conditions like heart disease, drug use and a spike in "adrenaline."
The prosecutor is trying to head off arguments from the defense that George Floyd's size had anything to do with his death - "his size is no excuse," he said.
Afterward, the prosecution started off with its opening statement, arguing that "reasonable doubt" will be critical for the jury. The defense only needs one juror to believe the argument that drugs were responsible for Floyd's death.
"There is no political or social cause in this courtroom," Eric Nelson, Chauvin's defense attorney, said. He also said there were more than 50K pieces of evidence, and that the case would be about more than "9 minutes and 29 seconds". The defense is saying that Floyd was passed out in a car before the police showed up, and his friends were trying to wake him up, which would support the defense's argument.
In what some described as an effort to head off the prosecution's argument that Chauvin and the other officers didn't abide by their training, Nelson "emphasized the fluid nature of police deicison-making in changing conditions: You will learn that Derek Chauvin was doing exactly what he had been trained to do during the course of his 19-year career.”
Both sides have highlighted that Dr. Andrew Baker, the local medical examiner, will be testifying. His testimony will focus on what caused Floyd’s death, but it could be one of the most important moments of the trial for jurors.
The NYT pointed out that, thanks to Minnesota law, both sides know exactly what is coming in the trial. While there may be surprises over the course of the trial for viewers, Minnesota has strict rules that require both sides to turn over evidence and testimony before trial.
After opening statements concluded, the trial went into a brief recess for lunch, before resuming to hear Matthew Frank, the head of the criminal division for the Minnesota attorney general’s office, question the first witness, a 911 operator who received calls from bystanders as officers were struggling with Floyd.
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Update (1000ET): During a press briefing outside the courthouse, Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump said that there would be "no question" about Chauvin's guilty if his victim were white.
"Today starts a landmark trial that will be a referendum on how far America has come on its quest for equality and justice for all,” Crump said.
"This murder case is not hard, just look at the torture video of George Floyd," Crump continued, saying that there would be no question whether Chauvin would get convicted if Floyd was white.
Crump also warned the defense attorneys would try to attack Floyd's character, calling him "everything but a child of God."
"They’re going to talk about...his record, but his record isn’t the issue because this is the trial of Derek Chauvin," Crump said.
The trial is expected to last for roughly a month.
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After a laborious and often fraught jury selection process (where many potential jurors were dropped for expressing concerns about being targeted by left-wing "activists" and for other complications related to pre-trial publicity, including a $27MM civil settlement between the city and the Floyd family), the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin is set to begin Monday morning at 1000ET (or 0900CT).
It will start with opening statements from the prosecution and the defense. The proceedings will be broadcast live on CourtTV, and interested parties can watch it live below:
Lawyer and legal analyst Jonathan Turley has argued that the stakes in the Chauvin trial are extremely high, and not only because the former officer, if convicted, could face life in prison (he's facing charges of second-degree and third-degree murder, along with manslaughter). Turley explained that "the domino effect" of a Chauvin acquittal would likely lead to charges against three other officers accused of abetting Floyd's murder being dropped.
The prosecutors constructed the cases against Chauvin, Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao like an upside-down pyramid resting on a conviction of Chauvin. The main charges against Kueng, Land and Thao are as aiders and abettors to Chauvin’s alleged murder or manslaughter. If Chauvin is acquitted or the jury hangs on the charges, the prosecution of the other three officers becomes extremely difficult.
Prosecutors are aware of the instability and vulnerability of that strategy. For that reason, they fought to restore a third-degree murder claim to give the jury another option for a compromise verdict between the second-degree murder claim and the second-degree manslaughter case. In a case that is best suited for a manslaughter claim, there is a risk of overcharging a case that undermines the narrative of the prosecution. The second-degree murder claim does not require intent to murder Floyd but still requires a murder committed in the course of another felony. The third-degree murder charge requires a showing that Chauvin perpetrated “an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.“
There are some very significant challenges for the prosecution, even with the infamous videotape of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes. There is a palpable fear that even mentioning countervailing defense arguments will trigger claims of racism or insensitivity to police abuse. However, the jury must unanimously convict on the basis of beyond a reasonable doubt after considering a variety of such arguments, including:
- When called to the scene due to Floyd allegedly passing counterfeit money, Floyd denied using drugs but later said he was “hooping,” or taking drugs.
- The autopsy did not conclude that Floyd died from asphyxiation (though a family pathologist made that finding). Rather, it found “cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officer(s).” The state’s criminal complaint against Chauvin said the autopsy “revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation. Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease.” He also was COVID-19 positive.
- Andrew Baker, Hennepin County’s chief medical examiner, strongly suggestedthat the primary cause was a huge amount of fentanyl in Floyd’s system: “Fentanyl at 11 ng/ml — this is higher than (a) chronic pain patient. If he were found dead at home alone & no other apparent causes, this could be acceptable to call an OD (overdose). Deaths have been certified w/levels of 3.” Baker also told investigators that the autopsy revealed no physical evidence suggesting Floyd died of asphyxiation.
- The toxicology report on Floyd’s blood also noted that “in fatalities from fentanyl, blood concentrations are variable and have been reported as low as 3 ng/ml.” Floyd had almost four times the level of fentanyl considered potentially lethal.
- Floyd notably repeatedly said that he could not breathe while sitting in the police cruiser and before he was ever restrained on the ground. That is consistent with the level of fentanyl in his system that can cause “slowed or stopped breathing.”
- Finally, the restraint using an officer’s knee on an uncooperative suspect was part of the training of officers, and jurors will watch training videotapes employing the same type of restraint as official policy.
For readers who haven't been closely following the case, Liberty Nation News has a breakdown of the key players:
- The prosecution is led by Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general, who was chosen as a special prosecutor by the governor, Tim Walz. Both are members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. Mr. Ellison, who is not highly regarded as a homicide prosecutor, went out and hired a Minnesota dream team to make sure Chauvin gets convicted. His lead lawyer so far has been Steven Schleicher, who Ellison hired out of private practice, and he will likely make the state’s opening arguments. Ellison has been in court during jury selection but has so far kept silent.
- Eric Nelson represents Derek Chauvin. He has experience working for police officer defendants and for the police union. Mr. Chauvin’s defense is being funded through that union, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association’s legal defense fund. According to the Associated Press: “Though he was fired soon after Floyd’s death, Chauvin earned the right to representation through his years as a member of his local union, the Minneapolis Police Federation.”
- Calling balls and strikes will be Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill. Judge Cahill has largely shown himself to be a fair jurist in this case so far. While he denied a defense request to move or delay the trial, he has given the defense many extra juror strikes during selection. He ordered cameras be allowed to broadcast the trial over a prosecution objection. Cahill has served as a prosecutor and a defense attorney during his long career.
- The process so far has not been light on drama. Jury selection almost went off the rails due to the announcement of a $27 million settlement paid by the city of Minneapolis to attorney Ben Crump and George Floyd’s family for his wrongful death. Jurors who were previously selected had to be re-examined after the settlement news broke, and two had to be dismissed. Numerous prospective jurors had to be eliminated from consideration due to this pretrial publicity. Judge Cahill and the trial lawyers eventually selected a panel, with 15 jurors chosen as acceptable. The trial will have 12 jurors and two alternates. The judge said he would send one approved juror home on Monday if all showed up for trial and impanel the rest. The current group of 15 breaks down as “six men and nine women; nine of the jurors are white, four are Black, and two are multiracial,” according to the court.
Finally, USAToday reports that the county government center where the courthouse is located has been surrounded by fencing and barricades to keep protesters at a distance. Numerous vigils and demonstrations are being held Monday, including one where Rev. Al Sharpton gathered supporters ahead of the trial to denounce Chauvin and call for a guilty verdict in the case, insinuating that justice would not be done otherwise.