Derek Chauvin trial: Prosecution says George Floyd died because of ex-cop’s ‘ego and pride’

Derek Chauvin is pictured in court on Monday morning during closing arguments in his murder trial

Prosecutors in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial have asked the jury to consider one question in coming to a verdict: Would George Floyd have died were it not for the cop’s restraint? 

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher presented that question in his closing statement on Monday morning as he cast doubt on the myriad of factors the defense presented as contributing causes of Floyd’s death, including his drug use, heart problems and potential exposure to exhaust from the squad car he was pinned next to on May 25. 

‘The defendant knew better. He just didn’t do better,’ Schleicher said of Chauvin. ‘George Floyd did not have to die that day, should not have died that day. But, for the fact that the defendant decided not to get up, and not to let up, George Floyd died.’

Schleicher also refuted the defense suggestion that Floyd had ‘superhuman strength’ during his arrest because he was suffering from ‘excited delirium’. 

Floyd was ‘a human being,’ the prosecutor said. ‘There is no such thing as super human, that exists in comic books.’ 

Underlining how hard Floyd fought just to be able to breathe, Schleicher showed the court graphic photos of the injuries he suffered when he was pinned down, which had been previously presented to the jury but were not released publicly until Monday. 

As he did throughout three weeks of testimony, Chauvin sat silent and expressionless and took notes on a yellow legal pad as Schleicher walked the jury through each of the charges he’s facing: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

Before closing statements Judge Peter Cahill addressed the jury and told them to stick to the evidence presented in court when coming to a verdict, saying: ‘You must follow the law even if you believe the law is or should be different.’ 

Prosecutors repeatedly referenced this timeline of Floyd's fatal arrest during the trial and showed it once again on Monday

Prosecutors repeatedly referenced this timeline of Floyd’s fatal arrest during the trial and showed it once again on Monday

Chauvin is facing three charges in connection with George Floyd's death on May 25: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter

Floyd is pictured in an undated file photo

Chauvin is facing three charges in connection with George Floyd’s death on May 25: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter

The court was shown these photos of the injuries Floyd sustained as he was pinned to the ground on May 25

The court was shown these photos of the injuries Floyd sustained as he was pinned to the ground on May 25 

Cuts are shown on Floyd's knuckles after he struggled to get Chauvin to relieve the pressure on his neck

Cuts are shown on Floyd’s knuckles after he struggled to get Chauvin to relieve the pressure on his neck

Schleicher asserted that Floyd died because Chauvin’s ‘ego and pride’ took over and caused the cop to betray his badge and abandon his training when he pressed his knee into the handcuffed black man’s neck.  

‘All that was required [to save Floyd] was some compassion,’ Schleicher told the court. But instead Floyd was crushed beneath the knee of the officer, surrounded by strangers with no familiar face or loved one to cry out to.

Schleicher noted that Floyd’s final words were addressed to Chauvin: ‘I can’t breathe’, over and over.

What is ‘excited delirium’? The condition Chauvin’s defense claims made Floyd dangerous during arrest 

Derek Chauvin’s defense has repeatedly suggested that George Floyd may have been experiencing ‘excited delirium’ during his fatal arrest on May 25. 

Excited delirium is a condition characterized by the abrupt onset of aggression and distress, typically accompanying drug abuse.  

Thomas Lane, a rookie officer who helped restrain Floyd, could be heard on body camera footage questioning whether Floyd might be experiencing excited delirium.

The subject came up at Chauvin’s trial last week when the defense called Nicole Mackenzie, a Minneapolis police officer who trains other officers in medical care and testified for the prosecution earlier.

Mackenzie told the jury that new officers are told how to recognize the signs of excited delirium. Suspects may be incoherent, she said, exhibit extraordinary strength, sweat or suffer from abnormal body temperature, or seem like they suddenly snapped. They’re taught that cardiovascular disease, drug abuse or mental illness can trigger excited delirium, she said.

But Mackenzie told the jury that she would defer to an emergency room doctor in diagnosing the condition. She also testified that she provides training on excited delirium only to new recruits. Judge Peter Cahill cautioned jurors that there is no evidence that the veteran Chauvin had the training.

There is no universally accepted definition of excited delirium and researchers have said it’s not well understood.

The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic handbook doesn’t list the condition and one study last year concluded it is mostly cited as a cause only when the person who died had been restrained.

‘But he continued to hold him down, to grind into him, to shimmy,’ Schleicher said. ‘George Floyd begged until he could speak no more and the defendant continued this assault.

‘The truth is the defendant was on top of him for nine minutes and 29 seconds and he had to know.’ 

Schleicher opened his statement by telling the jury who Floyd was – that he was born on October 14, 1973, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, that he was a ‘mama’s boy’, a beloved son, brother and father.

And Schleicher bookended Floyd’s life – loved and surrounded by loved ones – with his death, ground into the asphalt and alone. 

Addressing the fact that it is hard to believe that a police officer could ‘do something like this,’ Schleicher told the court this is not a case against the police, but against one particular bad cop.

What the defendant did, he said, ‘wasn’t policing. It was assault’.  

‘It was unnecessary, it was gratuitous and he did it on purpose,’ Schleicher told the jury. ‘He betrayed the badge and everything he stood for. [He] abandoned his values, abandoned his training and killed a man’.

Chauvin was responding to a call over a fake $20 bill but, the prosecutor told the silent court, ‘George Floyd’s life was taken for something worth far, far less than that.’

Floyd died because Chauvin was ‘trying to win’ and because of Chauvin’s ‘ego and pride’, Schleicher said.

It was not, he said, ‘the kind of pride that makes you do better’. It was, ‘The kind of ego-based pride that the defendant was going to do what he wanted to do as long as he wanted because he had the authority and he had the power and of the badge…[he was] trying to win and George Floyd paid for it with his life.’

According to Schleicher, Chauvin ‘chose pride over policing’.

Schleicher took the jury back through the events of May 25 and told them all of the reasons a person might be unable to comply to police commands – all of the reasons taught in the crisis response training undertaken by all of the officers there that day.

‘It’s nothing new,’ he told the jury. ‘People have emotions. People don’t meet the police on their best day very often.’

He reminded them of Chief Medaria Arradondo’s testimony that MPD responds to 4,000 calls for service for people in crisis every year.

‘They’re there on a $20 counterfeiting charge,’ he said. ‘They train for this.’

Schleicher did not attempt to sugar coat Floyd’s issues. He ‘certainty had his struggles,’ the prosecutor said, referencing testimony from Floyd’s girlfriend Courteney Ross about his struggles with opioid addiction.

That was nothing new for officers either, Schleicher said. ‘The difference on May 25, 2020 is that officers wouldn’t listen to him, wouldn’t recognize the signs of what they had prepared for,’ he said.

‘A reasonable officer should have known that and recognized that. Floyd was trying to get into the car. He was trying to work up the courage. He said he’d count to three but he just couldn’t do it.’ 

Everything that happened that day was, the prosecutor said, ‘completely unnecessary’, but the excessive force started in earnest the moment the officers had Floyd prone and handcuffed on the ground. 

Schleicher told jurors to ask themselves if Floyd would have died were it not for what Chauvin did that day. Was it his enlarged heart, did he suddenly die of a drug overdose, was it the fumes from the car tail-pipe?

‘Use your common sense,’ Schleicher urged. ‘Believe your eyes. What you saw you was murder.’

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher is seen delivering the state’s closing statement on Monday morning 

Prosecutors showed this graphic to remind how police officials testified that Chauvin's use of force was unreasonable

Prosecutors showed this graphic to remind how police officials testified that Chauvin’s use of force was unreasonable

Schleicher cited testimony from medical experts who said Floyd did not die from sudden cardiac arrhythmia or a heart attack

Schleicher cited testimony from medical experts who said Floyd did not die from sudden cardiac arrhythmia or a heart attack

This graphic seeks to refute the suggestion that Floyd's death was caused by his drug use

This graphic seeks to refute the suggestion that Floyd’s death was caused by his drug use 

Turning to the law as Judge Cahill had instructed the jurors, Schleicher reminded: ‘The fact that other causes contribute to the death does not relieve the defendant of criminal liability.’

The only scenario in which Chauvin is not criminally liable if a ‘superseding cause’ caused his death.

But, Schleicher intimated, ‘The unlawful restraint…that’s what killed George Floyd. Believe your eyes. Unlawful force pinning him to the ground, that’s what killed him. That was a homicide.’

Chauvin’s constant scribbling on a yellow notepad sparks fevered Twitter debate 

Schleicher guided the jury back through the experts they had heard and the testimony they had given – including emergency room physician Dr Bradford Langenfeld, Chief Medical Examiner Dr Andrew Baker, who ruled the death a homicide, and pulmonologist Dr Martin Tobin. 

Those experts explained both what Floyd did and did not die from, Schleicher said. 

‘You know how George Floyd died,’ the prosecutor said, harking back to Dr Tobin’s testimony during which he said that Floyd had been held ‘in a vice’ between the pavement and Chauvin’s knee.

‘He said it was as if George Floyd’s left lung had been surgically removed to the point where Mr Floyd was desperately trying to breathe, pushing his shoulder, pushing his face [against the ground] to breathe.’ 

‘That’s what killed Mr Floyd.’ This wasn’t a sudden arrhythmia, the prosecutor insisted, there was no medical evidence of a heart attack and it wasn’t a drug overdose. 

‘George Floyd was obviously not a perfect man. Who is? No-one is. You heard about drugs, you heard about questions: “Is he chewing gum, does he have a pill in his mouth?” None of that matters because you know what his drug level was from the toxicology result,’ Schleicher said. 

He went on to refute the suggestion that Floyd was experiencing ‘Excited Delirium’, and said the idea that the condition gave him ‘super-human strength’ or made him ‘impervious to pain’ was ‘nonsense’. 

There were so may things that might have saved Floyd’s life, Schleicher said; putting Floyd in the side recovery position or keeping him in it in the first place or giving immediate medical aid in the form of CPR chest compressions. 

‘These actions were not policing, theses actions were an assault,’ he said.

As for whether Chauvin was acting knowingly or not, Schleicher said: ‘It’s pretty simple. You’re doing something to hurt somebody and you keep doing it. You’re doing it on purpose.’

Schleicher played excerpts of the officers’ body-worn camera footage showing Floyd prone and handcuffed beneath them.

‘Do you want to know what indifference looks like?’ he asked, before playing a portion in which Chauvin can be heard responding to Floyd’s pleas of ‘you’re killing me,’ and complaints that his stomach hurts, that everything hurts with the sound: ‘Uh Huh’ before adding: ‘It takes a lot of oxygen to complain about it.’

Schleicher told the court: ‘That isn’t protection. It isn’t courage and it certainly, certainly isn’t compassion. It’s the opposite of that.’

But Chauvin’s negligence goes beyond what he did and extended towards what he did not do, Schleicher said.

Despite the fact that Chauvin had the ‘knowledge and tools’ he did not render medical aid.

In all, Schleicher concluded that the only possible verdict on all three counts was guilty.

But even after that he said: ‘You have another thing to consider. Was this just okay because the defendant was a police officer? Was it justified? Was this objectively reasonable?’

He told the jury: ‘It was not.’

‘We talked a lot about what might have happened, hypotheticals. We talked a lot about what didn’t happen. You need to focus on what did happen. George Floyd wasn’t resisting, he just couldn’t comply. They do it all the time.

‘He wasn’t going anywhere. He was doing anything. He didn’t need to be put in a prone position, but the defendant was on top of him he stayed on top of him, grinding his knee on him, twisting his wrist – simply the infliction of pain not a reasonable use of force. Force must be reasonable at the point it occurs, the point it ends and all points in between.’

‘Don’t miss the forest for the trees,’ he urged the jury. ‘Officer after officer, the Chief of Police, got on that stand and told you that this conduct violates the use of force policy, the department’s core values, the duty of care. 

‘When George Floyd said his final words to the defendant the defendant stayed on top of him. He ignored it. Continued doing what he was doing. Facing the crowd, grinding his knee, twisting his hand.’

‘The greatest sceptic of the case among you, how can you justify the continued use of force on this man when he has no pulse. It wasn’t too late. He could have rolled him over and performed CPR.

‘He continued past the point of finding a pulse, past the point where the ambulance arrived, past the point where the paramedics got out. What’s the goal? What are we trying to accomplish here? Why hold him so long, past that line that was crossed?’

Schleicher let the words pile up – unreasonable, unnecessary, unlawful.

‘The defendant is guilty of second-degree murder. He’s guilty of third-degree murder and he’s guilty of second-degree manslaughter: all of them,’ he said. ‘This is not a justified used of force. You can’t justify this use of force it’s not possible.’

As he did throughout three weeks of testimony, Chauvin sat silent and expressionless and took notes on a yellow legal pad as Schleicher walked the jury through each of the charges he's facing: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter

As he did throughout three weeks of testimony, Chauvin sat silent and expressionless and took notes on a yellow legal pad as Schleicher walked the jury through each of the charges he’s facing: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter 

Floyd family members Tiffany Hall, Philonise Floyd and Reverend Al Sharpton are seen walking into the Hennepin County courthouse on Monday morning ahead of closing statements

Floyd family members Tiffany Hall, Philonise Floyd and Reverend Al Sharpton are seen walking into the Hennepin County courthouse on Monday morning ahead of closing statements  

Members of Floyd's family held their fists in the air in defiance as they approached the courthouse on Monday

Members of Floyd’s family held their fists in the air in defiance as they approached the courthouse on Monday 

Reverend Al Sharpton and members of George Floyd's family arrive at Hennepin County courthouse on Monday

Reverend Al Sharpton and members of George Floyd’s family arrive at Hennepin County courthouse on Monday

Schleicher returned to his opening sentiments as he wound towards the end of his powerful two-hour closing statement. He had said at the start that Floyd had died surrounded by strangers but they were not, he said people who did not care.

‘They all converged by fate in one single moment of time to witness something,’ he said. ‘To witness nine minutes 29 seconds of shocking abuse of authority, to watch a man die and there was nothing they could do about it because they were powerless. Because even they respected the badge. Even seeing this happening.

‘All they could do was watch and gather what they could, gather their memories, their thoughts and impressions, those precious recordings and they gathered those up and they brought them here and they got up on the stand and they bore witness to this outrageous act and they gave you what they had.’

‘And they gave it to you,’ he said looking at the jury, ‘Randomly selected people from the community. You got a summons in the mail and here you are – all converged on one spot.

‘That power belongs to you. Only you have the power to convict the defendant of this crime and in so doing declare that this use of force was unreasonable it was excessive, it was grossly disproportionate.

‘It is not an excuse for the shocking abuse you saw with your own eye. This case is exactly what you thought when you saw hit first.’

Returning to Jerry Blackwell’s opening statements as he wrapped up his own closing, Schleicher said: ‘You can believe your eyes. It’s exactly what you knew it was. It’s what you felt in your gut. It’s what you now know in your heart.

‘This wasn’t policing, this was murder. The defendant is guilty on all three counts – all of them – there no excuse.’

The court took a break before Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson stepped up for his closing statement, which he began by reminding the jury that the defendant ‘doesn’t have to play catch up’, he starts with presumption of innocence.

For the first time in the case Chauvin set down the pen with which he has scribbled throughout and looked at the screen on which Nelson displayed definitions of standards of doubt, stretching out his arms and calling for them to consider the scales of justice, reasonably balanced.

Civil cases may use a ‘preponderance of evidence’ as a standard of proof he told them – a grain of sand that could, he suggested, tip the scales.

The next level is ‘clear and convincing evidence’. This is the standard, Nelson told the jury, that the state used to, ‘take away your children.’

The highest standard is proof ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. Nelson explained: ‘Essentially what the state has to convince you is that the evidence in this case completely eliminates any reasonable doubt – or in other words leaving only unreasonable doubt, capricious, unpredictable, fanciful – space aliens flew in and inhabited the body of Derek Chauvin, that’s fanciful.’

Where Schleicher was emotive, his language powerful, his images dramatic, Nelson asked the jury to be ‘intellectually honest’ and cast his own statements accordingly.

Most notably, Nelson took a quick swipe at the state’s rebuttal of defense medical expert Dr David Fowler’s contention that carbon monoxide may have played a part in Floyd’s death.

Dr Tobin came in and told the jury, he said, that there could not have been any carbon monoxide poisoning because his oxygen saturation levels at hospital were 98 percent.

Nelson pointed out: ‘I could get up in front of you and argue you to that we know this wasn’t asphyxiation because George Floyd had a 98 percent oxygen level but that’s not intellectually honest.

‘It doesn’t stack up against the rest of the evidence because of what we know. We heard the testimony of paramedic Seth Bravinder and [ER physician] Dr Langenfeld.

‘They came in and said they began resuscitation efforts, they introduced oxygen they’re manually breathing for him. They’re re-oxygenating his blood.

‘So, when you’re looking at the evidence you have to compare it to all of the of the evidence.’

If they are missing any single element – even one single element – then, Nelson said, the verdict has to be not guilty. ‘I submit to you that the state has failed to meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,’ he said.

Nelson focused in on the definition of objectively reasonably use of force because, in his words, ‘No crime is committed if the police officer’s actions were reasonable.’

‘You must look at those facts which a reasonable officer in the same situation would have known at the precise moment the officer acted with force,’ he said.

‘You must decide if the officer’s actions were reasonable in light of the totality of the facts and circumstance in front of the officer and without regard to the officer’s own state of mind, intention or motivations.’

As he did in his opening Nelson cast his net wide when it came to all of the things, he said, an objectively reasonable officer would have been aware of on the day of Floyd’s death – the high crime area, the fact that it was high density and urban, the proximity of a hospital, the behavior of the suspect and the unpredictability of humans.

A reasonable officer, he said, will take into consideration his immediate surroundings and who he’s on the scene with. ‘Are these veteran officers, are they rookie officers?’ Nelson asked. ‘Throughout the course of this trial the state has focused you on nine minutes 29 seconds. The proper analysis is to take those nine minutes 29 seconds and put them in the context of what would a reasonable officer know.’

And that picture, Nelson said, starts at the moment of dispatch.

What Chauvin knew, he said, was that a business had called, that the suspect was there, he was large and possibly under the influence.

That first call was a code 3 – ‘get there fast, lights and sirens’ – but it was cancelled when officers Thomas Lane and J Alexander Keung took the call over.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson is seen delivering his closing statement on Monday morning

Defense attorney Eric Nelson is seen delivering his closing statement on Monday morning 

In his instructions to the jury on Monday morning, Judge Cahill said that ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is the standard upon which an ‘ordinary prudent man or woman would act in their ordinary affairs.’

Reasonable doubt, he told them, is a doubt, ‘based on common sense.’ It is not ‘a fanciful or capricious doubt nor is it beyond all doubt.’

Judge Peter Cahill opened Monday's proceedings by reading the jury instructions ahead of closing statements

Judge Peter Cahill opened Monday’s proceedings by reading the jury instructions ahead of closing statements

He talked them through the law as it applies to each of the three counts faced by Chauvin. None of the charges – second-degree murder, third-degree murder or second-degree manslaughter – require the jury to find that Chauvin intended to cause substantial bodily harm or the death of George Floyd.

Even the most serious count only requires them to find that he committed the act of felony assault and does not need the additional element of any intention to cause the harm that it did. Put bluntly it would be enough for them to find that he did it.

Equally they may find him guilty of causing Floyd’s death if they decide that his act or acts were a substantial factor in Floyd’s death. They need not be the only factor if the jury but any others must be a direct result of Chauvin’s act.

But if they decide that there was another superseding cause that was not a result of Chauvin’s acts.

All of their assessments of Chauvin must be considered through the prism of whether his use of force was ‘objectively reasonable in light of the totality of the facts without regard to the officer’s own intentions.’

Chauvin is not guilty, he told them, if they find that the force he used was authorized by law.

When it comes to judging the veracity of witnesses’ testimony ‘there are no hard and fast rules,’ and no weight at all can be given to the fact that Chauvin himself did not take the stand.

Minneapolis was transformed into a fortress over the weekend as city officials, business owners and residents braced for unrest that could follow the verdict in Chauvin’s case.   

More than 3,000 members of the National Guard are currently stationed in the city in addition to 1,100 officers from public safety agencies across the state as part of what has been termed Operation Safety Net.

In the early hours of Sunday, two members of the National Guard were injured in a drive-by shooting.

There were no serious injuries, said Adjutant General Maj Gen Shawn Manke, but he added that the incident ‘highlights the volatility and tension in our communities right now’. 

A Monmouth University poll released on Thursday found that 63 percent of Americans believe that acquittals across the board for Chauvin would be a negative step for race relations.

Thirty-seven percent said that if he were found guilty of murder, it would be a positive step.

Police unions, and conservatives more broadly, have warned against high-profile cases being judged on bigger issues outside the courtroom, such as race relations in general, rather than the evidence put forth in the proceedings.

The tension has been heightened by the killing less than 10 miles from downtown Minneapolis of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man shot by a white police officer, Kimberly Potter, at a traffic stop on April 11. She has been charged with manslaughter.

Members of the National Guard and police officers stand guard in Minneapolis ahead of a Chauvin verdict

Members of the National Guard and police officers stand guard in Minneapolis ahead of a Chauvin verdict

Hennepin County Government Center, where the Chauvin trial is being held, is protected with high fences and concrete

Hennepin County Government Center, where the Chauvin trial is being held, is protected with high fences and concrete

Members of the National Guard stand on duty in downtown Minneapolis under Operation Safety Net

Members of the National Guard stand on duty in downtown Minneapolis under Operation Safety Net

City Hall in Minneapolis is boarded up on Sunday and ringed in fencing and barbed wire ahead of the Chauvin verdict

City Hall in Minneapolis is boarded up on Sunday and ringed in fencing and barbed wire ahead of the Chauvin verdict

The state’s case: Prosecutors called 38 witnesses – including police officials, medical experts and people who watched Floyd’s fatal arrest in real time – to prove the black man’s death caused by Chauvin’s actions 

Chauvin’s highly anticipated trial began on March 29 with an opening statement from trial attorney Jerry Blackwell, who vowed to prove that the defendant ‘betrayed the badge’ when he ‘did not get up, did not let up’ for nine minutes and 29 seconds, even after Floyd stopped breathing and despite the fevered pleas from bystanders for him to release Floyd.


Second-degree murder 

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, which in Minnesota can be ‘intentional’ or ‘unintentional.’ The second-degree murder charge requires prosecutors to prove Chauvin caused Floyd’s death while committing or trying to commit a felony — in this case, third-degree assault. 

Prosecutors must convince the jury that Chauvin assaulted or attempted to assault Floyd and in doing so inflicted substantial bodily harm. Prosecutors don’t have to prove Chauvin was the sole cause of Floyd’s death – only that his conduct was a ‘substantial causal factor.’ If the prosecution can prove Chauvin committed third-degree assault , he can be convicted of Floyd’s death. 

Prosecutors are fearful that Chauvin will escape conviction for second-degree murder, that carries a maximum 40 year sentence. But because Chauvin does not have any prior convictions, sentencing guidelines recommend he serve no more than 25.5 years in jail. 

Second-degree manslaughter 

The manslaughter charge has a lower bar, requiring proof Chauvin caused Floyd’s death through negligence that created an unreasonable risk, and consciously took the chance of causing severe injury or death.  

If convicted of second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota, the charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. But sentencing guidelines for someone without a criminal record call for no more than four years behind bars.

Third-degree murder 

Third-degree murder would require a lower standard of proof than second-degree. To win a conviction, prosecutors would have to show only that Floyd’s death was caused by an act that was obviously dangerous, though not necessarily a felony. That would result in a maximum sentence of 25 years. 

But there are caveats. Chauvin has no criminal history, which means he will likely end up serving about 12.5 years if he is convicted of second or third-degree murder.

Over the next 11 days prosecutors brought in 38 witnesses – beginning with people who watched Floyd’s fatal arrest unfold in real time. 

Among them was 911 dispatcher Jena Scurry, who called the officers’ supervisor with concerns about their use of force; off-duty firefighter and EMT Genevieve Hansen, who begged the officers to allow her to provide medical aid; nine-year-old Judea and her cousin Darnella Frazier, who filmed the most famous viral video of the arrest; and mixed martial arts fighter Don Williams, who testified that Chauvin used a ‘blood choke’ on Floyd. 

Christopher Martin, the Cup Foods employee whose concerns about a counterfeit $20 bill Floyd used to buy cigarettes led to his arrest, also testified that he wished he hadn’t said anything because he believes Floyd might still be alive today if he’d kept quiet. 

During testimony from these eye-witnesses the jury was shown several graphic videos of Floyd’s confrontation with police. Prosecutors also showed video of Floyd inside the Cup Foods store before police were called, in which he appeared agitated, distracted and potentially under the influence of drugs.   

The second week of the trial was dominated by technical testimony, beginning with senior Minneapolis Police Department officials, including Chief Medaria Arradondo, who testified that Chauvin violated department policy when he restrained Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds. 

Police officials testified that while officers might sometimes use a knee across a person’s back or shoulder to gain or maintain control, they’re also taught the specific dangers for a person in Floyd’s position – prone on his stomach, with his hands cuffed behind him – and how such a person must be turned into a side recovery position as soon as possible. 

Later in the prosecutors called a string of medical experts to testify that Floyd died due to a lack of oxygen, not from a primary cardiac event. Some of the most powerful testimony came from Dr Martin Tobin, a lung and critical care specialist who told jurors that other factors, not just Chauvin’s knee, made it hard for Floyd to breathe: officers lifting up his handcuffs, the hard pavement, his turned head and a knee on his back. 

Tobin pinpointed the moment when he said he could see Floyd take his last breath – and said Chauvin’s knee remained on Floyd’s neck another 3 minutes, two seconds. ‘At the beginning, you can see he’s conscious, you can see slight flickering, and then it disappears,’ Tobin said as he highlighted a still image from police body-camera video. ‘That’s the moment the life goes out of his body.’  

The state rested its case on April 13, at which point all eyes turned to Chauvin’s attorney Nelson. 

The defense case: Chauvin’s attorneys called just seven witnesses to shift blame away from the ex-cop and onto Floyd’s drug use and health problems  

At the center of Nelson’s defense was the argument that Floyd’s death was not caused by Chauvin’s actions but by outside factors – namely Floyd’s drug addiction and underlying health conditions, including a bad heart.  

Nelson made two other key arguments: that use of force is an unattractive but essential component of policing, and that the hostile crowd that surrounded Chauvin and fellow officers as they restrained Floyd had distracted them from proper procedure and care.      

Nelson called just seven witnesses over two days of testimony. He began by showing the jury video from Floyd’s arrest on May 6, 2019, in an effort to portray that he had a history of feigning medical distress and rapidly ingesting pills when confronted by police through testimony by an officer and a paramedic involved in that arrest. 

The next two witnesses – Minneapolis Park Police Officer Peter Chang and Floyd’s friend Shawanda Hill – spoke about what they saw on the day of Floyds death as the court was shown new body-camera footage of the chaos. 

The sixth witness was Barry Brodd, a former cop and use-of-force expert who testified that Chauvin did not use deadly force against Floyd. In fact, Brodd argued that Chauvin’s placing the handcuffed black man in the prone position and kneeling on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds did not constitute use of force at all.  

‘It’s a control technique. It doesn’t hurt,’ Brodd said. ‘It’s safe for the officer, safe for the suspect and you’re using minimal effort to keep them on the ground.’ 

During direct examination by Nelson, Brodd said Chauvin was ‘justified’ and acting ‘with objective reasonableness’ in his interactions with Floyd.  He also leaned in to the defense narrative that Chauvin and his fellow officers felt ‘threatened’ by the gathering crowd. 

But as he looked at the all-too-familiar image of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck under cross-examination, Brodd was forced to concede that such a restraint would cause pain and thus also ‘could be use of force’.  

The final and perhaps most influential witness called was Dr David Fowler, a former chief medical examiner in Maryland who shared his conclusion that Floyd’s death should have never been classified as a homicide because there were too many competing potential causes of death.  

One of the potential causes Fowler presented was exposure to exhaust fumes from the squad car Floyd was pinned next to, which the defense witness said could have caused some degree of carbon monoxide poisoning.  

The carbon monoxide point was one of many on which Fowler contradicted the opinions of medical experts who testified before him. Blackwell drilled down on those contradictions while attempting to chip away at Fowler’s credibility during cross-examination, at one point telling him: ‘You’re not a toxicologist..a pulmonologist.. a cardiologist, a physiologist…You don’t treat patients.’

Fowler’s earliest contradiction over more than five hours of testimony on April 14 came when he shared his conclusion that Floyd died from a ‘sudden cardiac arrhythmia’ due to his underlying heart disease during his restraint by police. That conclusion was refuted by Dr Baker, the Hennepin County chief medical examiner who performed Floyd’s autopsy. 

Fowler also said that Floyd had an enlarged heart, which meant he needed more oxygen to function, and that methamphetamine use heightened his risk of cardiac arrhythmia. 

Later in his lengthy and technical testimony, Fowler cited multiple studies which challenged the notion that the prone position – in which Floyd was held for nine minutes and 29 seconds – is inherently dangerous. 

He also referenced studies which concluded that it doesn’t matter how much a person weighs if they are applying a single knee to another person – and a double knee restraint makes only a modest difference.

According to those studies a person transfers just 23 percent of their bodyweight during a double knee restraint. So, Dr Fowler said, Chauvin – who he viewed as applying a single knee restraint for most of the restraint – would have been applying less than 30 to 35 pounds of weight to Floyd.

Fowler asserted that none of that weight compromised Floyd’s ‘vital neck structures’, that there was no evidence of injury to Floyd’s neck and that the pressure applied was less than the amount necessary to bruise him.  

Moments before the defense rested Chauvin addressed the court for the first time on the morning of April 15 and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination, meaning he would not take the stand.  

In a brief rebuttal later that morning the prosecution recalled Dr Tobin to refute Fowler’s claims about the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning, with which Tobin said he disagreed entirely.  

Judge Cahill barred Tobin from referring to specific test results with Floyd’s carbon monoxide levels, which the prosecution sought to enter into evidence just minutes earlier. But Tobin told the court Floyd’s hemoglobin was 98 percent saturated with oxygen, leaving up to two percent for carbon monoxide. Pressing that point Tobin told the jury: ‘You and I have somewhere between zero and three.’ 

Judge Cahill excused the jurors through the weekend, reminding them to pack a bag ahead of sequestration on Monday following closing statements. 

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