Jury begins deliberations in Chauvin murder case as America awaits verdict

Jurors have begun deliberations in the high-profile trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged with murdering George Floyd.

Tensions are high in Minneapolis, with hundreds of national guard soldiers deployed. Last year, a video, which showed the killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man by Chauvin, prompted days of protests, riots and looting, and demonstrations across the US and world.

During his almost two-hour argument on Monday, prosecutor Steve Schleicher returned to a theme raised at the start of the trial: jurors can believe what they saw in the video of Floyd’s death.

“You can believe your own eyes,” he said. “This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first with that video . . . It’s what you felt in your gut. It’s what you now know in your heart. This wasn’t policing, this was murder.”

Many Americans have reached their own verdict in the Chauvin case, and see the trial as part of a reckoning in the broader struggle for racial justice.

“For nine minutes and 29 seconds George Floyd begged until he could beg no more, and the defendant continued this assault,” Schleicher said.

The prosecutor said Chauvin’s “ego, his pride” led him to keep his knee in place, even as bystanders pleaded with him to stop, because he “wasn’t going to be told what to do”.

“He was going to do what he wanted, how he wanted, for as long as he wanted,” said Schleicher. “This was not policing, it was unnecessary, it was gratuitous, and he did it on purpose.”

Schleicher asked if Floyd would have died that day if he hadn’t been pinned down by Chauvin and scorned the idea that he chose that moment to die of heart disease.

“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes,” he told the jurors. “Unreasonable force pinning him to the ground, that’s what killed him.”

Eric Nelson, defence attorney, later told jurors the state had not met its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

“No crime is committed if it was an authorised use of force,” he said. “Period. End of discussion.

The case is being closely watched in Minneapolis and across the US as a referendum on the degree to which US police officers will be held accountable for killing black Americans.

Many across the metro area have said riots could result if the jury acquits Chauvin.

A key part of the prosecution’s case was video of Floyd’s death, played multiple times. They called 38 witnesses during the trial, including Medaria Arradondo, Minneapolis police chief, who condemned Chauvin’s actions, saying: “It’s not part of our training and it’s certainly not part of our ethics or values.” 

Jerry Blackwell, the special assistant attorney general, who opened arguments for the prosecution three weeks ago, had the last word before the judge sent the jury out to deliberate.

He told jurors that the case against Chauvin was so simple that a child could understand it, which was why a nine-year-old bystander told the police officer to “get off of” George Floyd.

Blackwell finished with an evocative line that went from the victim’s medical condition to the officer’s character and emotion.

He said to the jury: “You were told, for example, that Mr Floyd died because his heart was too big. And now, having seen all the evidence, having heard all the evidence, you know the truth, and the truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr Chauvin’s heart was too small.”

If the jury agrees that Chauvin, 45, did commit an assault as he pinned Floyd to the ground, that will open the path to a conviction on the most serious charge of second-degree murder, which requires the former officer to have committed a felony that led to death.

If the jury does not agree that Chauvin’s use of force was criminal in itself but showed “reckless disregard for human life”, it could still convict him of third-degree murder. Chauvin also faces a manslaughter charge.

Chauvin faces up to 40 years in prison.

The 12 jurors will be sequestered until they reach a verdict or fail to agree on any of the charges.