Trial of officer accused or murdering George Floyd gets underway

Defense attorney Eric Nelson (left) and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (right) sit in court before opening statements on March 29, 2021.

Opening statements focus on cause of death, police training

MINNEAPOLIS – Attorneys in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin laid out their case on Monday before 14 jurors who will decide if Chauvin is guilty of murder or manslaughter in the death of George Floyd on May 25.

The opening statements from the prosecution and defense indicate the trial will hinge on the cause of death and police training.

Jerry Blackwell, a private attorney working pro bono with the attorney general’s office, began his opening statements for the prosecution by citing an oath taken by Minneapolis police officers: “I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately … never employing unnecessary force or violence.”

He showed the video of Chauvin with his knee pressed to Floyd’s neck for about 9 minutes. It was the first time that some members of the jury had seen the video, which went viral and set off demonstrations across the world calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality against Black people.

Blackwell said the case centers on the 9 minutes and 29 seconds that Chauvin held his knee to Floyd’s neck, which he says clearly shows that Chauvin used excessive and unreasonable force.

Blackwell previewed some of the witnesses the prosecution plans to call to testify, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who he says will tell jurors that Chauvin’s actions did not reflect the training or policy of the Minneapolis Police Department.

“The evidence is going to show you there was no cause in the first place to use lethal force against the man who was defenseless, who was handcuffed, who was not resisting,” Blackwell said. “This case is not about split-second decision making. In 9 minutes and 29 seconds there are 479 seconds — not a split second among them.” (There are 569 seconds in 9 minutes and 29 seconds.)

Attorney Jerry Blackwell, who is working pro bono with the prosecution, delivered the state’s opening statement on March 29, 2021.

The video taken by a bystander showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, with that length of time becoming a fixture in demonstrations. During a news conference on Monday morning, Rev. Al Sharpton asked the public to kneel for 8 minutes and 46 seconds beginning at 8:46 a.m. to show how long Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd.

Once body camera footage from the four officers involved in Floyd’s death was released, however, it showed Chauvin’s use of force lasted even longer: 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

Blackwell also laid out the prosecution’s plan to show it was Chauvin’s use of force that caused Floyd’s death. He told jurors they would show  Floyd experience an “anoxic seizure” and “agonal breathing” as a result of oxygen deprivation.

During the video, Floyd says “I can’t breathe” 27 times, with that phrase becoming a chant at demonstrations across the country. Read more