Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listens to closing arguments during his trial in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the US April 19 2021 in this court sketch. Picture: JANE ROSENBERG/ REUTERS
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listens to closing arguments during his trial in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the US April 19 2021 in this court sketch. Picture: JANE ROSENBERG/ REUTERS

Minneapolis —  Prosecutors told jurors to “believe your eyes” as they replayed video of George Floyd's death last May beneath the knee of Derek Chauvin in closing arguments on Monday before jurors began deliberating whether the former police officer was guilty of murder.

Chauvin's lead lawyer, Eric Nelson, countered that Chauvin behaved as any “reasonable police officer” would, arguing that he followed his training from 19 years on the force.

Steve Schleicher, a prosecutor with the Minnesota attorney-general's office, repeated a phrase: “Nine minutes and 29 seconds,  the length of time Chauvin was captured on video on May 25 2020 with his knee pressed into the dying Floyd's neck.

For the past three weeks, the murder trial of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, US, heard many testimonies from the state, witnesses, the defence, family and medical experts.

Though the jury's verdict will be seen as a reckoning in the way the US polices black people, Schleicher emphasised in remarks that lasted nearly two hours that the jury was weighing the guilt of only one man, not a system.

“This wasn't policing; this was murder,” Schleicher told jurors. He cited the motto of the Minneapolis police department, which fired Chauvin and three other officers after Floyd's arrest: “To protect with courage and to serve with compassion.

“Facing George Floyd that day that did not require one ounce of courage, and none was shown on that day,” Schleicher said, often speaking with audible anger and disgust. “All that was required was a little compassion and none was shown on that day.”

Chauvin, who is white, pushed his knee into the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old handcuffed black man, for more than nine minutes outside the grocery store where he had been suspected of buying cigarettes with a fake $20 bill.

“He was trapped with the unyielding pavement beneath him, as unyielding as the men who held him down,” Schleicher said, before playing some of the extensive video of Floyd's death, which he said showed Chauvin mocking Floyd's struggle to breath.

Hennepin county district judge Peter Cahill gave the jury final instructions before they left the court at 4pm to begin their deliberations. Jurors will be sequestered in a hotel outside deliberation hours.

Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Nelson, his lawyer, said prosecutors were wrong to dismiss his theory that carbon monoxide poisoning from the nearby police car's exhaust and Floyd's use of fentanyl, an opioid painkiller, may have contributed to Floyd's death.

He repeated a single phrase scores of times, saying Chauvin behaved as a “reasonable police office” would in dealing with a man as “large” as Floyd, who was struggling against being put in a police car when Chauvin arrived, responding to a call for backup.

Chauvin, dressed in a grey suit and dark blue shirt and tie, removed his face mask and watched the jurors listen to his lawyer, who spoke for nearly three hours.

In a final rebuttal before deliberations began, Jerry Blackwell, another prosecutor, scoffed at the carbon monoxide theory.

“What 'reasonable police officer,' when apprehending someone on the ground, subdues them and puts their face in front of a tailpipe of a car, and then thinks that's a defence?” he asked.

The extensive video footage of Floyd's death from multiple angles is the heart of the prosecution's case. Jurors have spent hours watching the videos in the court.

“You can believe your eyes,” Blackwell said. “It was what you saw. It was homicide.”

He said it shows Chauvin using unreasonable, and therefore illegal, force in compressing Floyd's torso against the road, starving him of oxygen.

He said it was something that was obvious even to the youngest bystander, who testified in the first week. “Even a 9-year-old little girl knows it: get off of him,” Blackwell said.

But Nelson used the same videos to try to prove the opposite point: The fact that Chauvin continued kneeling on Floyd even as he knew he was being filmed was evidence he believed he was responding to the scene in a reasonable way, Nelson said.

“In this case, the totality of the circumstances that were known to a reasonable police officer in the precise moment the force was used demonstrates that this was an authorised use of force, as unattractive as it may be,” Nelson said.

National news networks carried live broadcasts of testimony after the first of more than 40 witnesses took the stand three weeks ago, though the coverage was sometimes interrupted by fresh episodes of police violence caught on camera.

The closest instance occurred a few miles from the court in downtown Minneapolis when a white police officer fatally shot a black motorist, Daunte Wright, on April 11 in a traffic stop in the nearby suburb of Brooklyn Center.

As angry protests swelled, Minneapolis and state officials have ramped up security precautions. The tower in which the court sits is ringed by barbed wire and armed soldiers from the National Guard.

For the second-degree murder charge, 12 jurors will have to agree that prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin committed a felony, in this case assault, that was a substantial cause in Floyd's death. They do not have to find that Chauvin intended to kill Floyd.

That crime carries a punishment of up to 40 years in prison, though sentencing guidelines call for a shorter sentence of up to 15 years for someone with no prior convictions.


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