The jury of 12 people — six White, four Black and two multiracial — listened to nearly six hours of closing arguments Monday as the prosecution and defense ended the case just as they began three weeks ago, presenting vastly different views of the circumstances that led to Floyd’s Memorial Day death on a Minneapolis street.
Both sides repeatedly played the viral video footage of the 46-year-old Black man pinned beneath the White police officer’s knee for more than nine minutes before going limp — the prosecution and defense each trying to use it to amplify their final points to jurors ahead of deliberations.
“Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” special prosecutor Steve Schleicher told the jury as he displayed a still image taken from bystander footage of Chauvin kneeling atop Floyd.
Summing up weeks of damaging testimony in the case including from eyewitnesses, police officers and medical experts, Schleicher insisted Chauvin “had to know” that he was killing Floyd when he pressed his knee into the man’s neck and back while Floyd was handcuffed, face down on the street, crying out for breath and for his dead mother.
He argued that it was Chauvin’s ego and his refusal to stand down to onlookers who were screaming at him to get off Floyd that ultimately were to blame for Floyd’s death.
“You saw the photo. You saw the body language. … The defendant facing down that crowd,” Schleicher said. “They were pointing cameras at him, recording him, telling him what to do, challenging his authority, his ego, his pride. … But the defendant was not going to be told what to do. He was not going to let these bystanders tell him what to do. He was going to do what he wanted, how he wanted for as long as he wanted,” Schleicher said.
“The defendant, he chose pride over policing,” Schleicher said. He repeatedly reminded the jurors that Chauvin had knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, including several minutes after Floyd no longer had a pulse.
But defense attorney Eric Nelson countered the prosecution’s arguments by urging the jury to consider the “totality of the circumstances,” including what happened before Chauvin arrived at the scene.
He accused prosecutors of trying to mislead jurors by focusing only on the time that Floyd was restrained beneath his client’s knee and not the nearly 17 minutes spanning from when officers first responded to the scene for a complaint that a fake $20 bill had allegedly been passed at a market to when Floyd was placed on the ground after struggling with officers.
“The nine minutes and 29 seconds ignores the previous 16 minutes and 59 seconds,” Nelson argued.
Nelson, who has argued that Floyd died of a combination of drugs in his system and preexisting health issues, not his client’s knee, spent the bulk of his closing arguments defending Chauvin’s use of force and behavior at the scene.
He repeatedly insisted that Chauvin was following his training and experience as a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department and that he had behaved as any “reasonable officer” would.
Nelson replayed police body-camera footage of the event, which has been widely viewed as damaging to Chauvin’s case, including scenes of Floyd resisting officers as they tried to place him inside a squad car. Floyd, who had been compliant earlier, told the officers he was claustrophobic and had recently had covid-19, as he struggled against being placed in the confined back seat of the car.
Much of Nelson’s closing argument laid out for the first time what his client was thinking as he arrived on the scene and later held Floyd on the ground, even though jurors did not directly hear from Chauvin during the trial. Last week, Chauvin told the court he would not testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Nelson asked jurors to consider Chauvin’s point of view, arriving at a scene to see two rookie officers — J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas K. Lane — struggling with a large suspect who was described by a police dispatcher as potentially under the influence. “A reasonable police officer would rely on his training and experience,” Nelson said.
In an echo of a defense that he hinted at in the fall when all four officers at the scene were to be tried jointly, Nelson implied Chauvin did not believe Kueng and Lane had handled the scene properly and was distracted by not only the crowd, but also by trying to keep the rookies focused on doing their jobs correctly. He noted that Chauvin did not curse at Floyd, which Lane did as the officer pulled the man out of his car by gunpoint earlier during the incident.
But Nelson omitted mention of body-camera footage that showed Chauvin dismissing an effort by Lane, who asked whether they should roll an unconscious Floyd over. The footage also shows Chauvin ignored Kueng and kept his knee on Floyd’s neck even after being told Floyd no longer had a pulse — a point seized upon by Schleicher in his final words to the jury.
“[To] the greatest skeptic of this case among you, how can you justify the continued force on this man when he has no pulse?” Schleicher said. “[Chauvin] continued the restraint, continued grinding and twisting and pushing him down and crushing the very life out of him.”
Schleicher repeatedly argued that Chauvin “had to know” that he was killing Floyd because he heard him crying out in pain and could see what was happening “right beneath him” but still did nothing.
Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Only one Minnesota police officer has ever been convicted of an on-duty murder.
On Monday, prosecutors acknowledged the difficulty jurors have in convicting police officers. Schleicher emphasized that the case was about Chauvin’s behavior. “This case is not called the State of Minnesota versus the police,” he told the jury.
“It may be hard for any of you to imagine a police officer doing something like this,” he added. “Imagining a police officer committing a crime might be the most difficult thing you have to set aside, because that’s just not the way we think of police officers. We trust the police. We trust the police to help us. We believe the police are going to respond to our call for help.”
But Chauvin, he argued, did not listen or help. “What the defendant did to George Floyd killed him,” Schleicher said.
Before closing arguments, Hennepin County Judge Peter A. Cahill explained to the jurors all of the elements of each charge that need to be proved to convict Chauvin. None of the charges require the state to prove that Chauvin had an “intent” to kill Floyd, but all the charges require proof that his behavior was a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death.
Fourteen jurors heard more than 40 witnesses over 13 days of testimony, but Cahill ended Monday by dismissing two alternates. He ordered the jurors sequestered until they reach a verdict. The jury is expected to deliberate from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
With Minneapolis on edge amid fears of fresh civil unrest related to the verdict, the court has said it will not announce a verdict late in the day, avoiding potential protests at night.
After the jury was sent to deliberate, Nelson called for a mistrial, citing intense media coverage, including comments over the weekend by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who during an appearance in the Twin Cities called on protesters to get “more confrontational” on issues of racism and policing if Chauvin is not found guilty.
Nelson argued that Waters’s comments could be viewed as an “intimidation” of the jury. Cahill said the comments could help Nelson’s cause, should he appeal the case later, but declined the mistrial.