Monday marks the first day of jury selection in the murder trial of fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 44, in the death of local man George Floyd, 46. As seen on video, Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for several minutes during an arrest on May 25, 2020. The victim died that same day, fueling a fraught national debate over how law enforcement treats people of color.
1. The Alleged Murder
Chauvin, and three other officers–Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng–responded to an allegation that Floyd used a counterfeit $20 bill at the Cup Foods corner store.
According to documents, Kueng and Lane were on the scene first. A handcuffed Floyd said he was not resisting, but he did not want to get inside the patrol vehicle. He said he was claustrophobic. Things escalated after Chauvin and Thao arrived. Floyd could be heard saying he could not breathe.
After officers struggled to get him into the patrol vehicle, Chauvin pulled him out, and placed him face down on the ground, still handcuffed and increasingly becoming unresponsive. This is the pivotal moment caught on tape, with Floyd saying he could not breathe, and calling for his late mother.
Angry bystanders called the officer out, telling him he was stopping the victim’s breathing.
“He enjoying that shit,” one man said of Chauvin.
At the end of it all, authorities lifted Floyd’s limp body onto a stretcher.
Prosecutors say the defendant kneeled on the Floyd’s neck for seven minutes and 46 seconds. (The original criminal complaints said eight minutes and 46 seconds.)
2. National Disgust
The video of Floyd’s death fueled protests nationwide, amid the ongoing national debate over how law enforcement treats people of color, including Black men like him. He became a symbol. Chauvin, Thao, Lane, and Kueng were fired and charged.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said Chauvin “knew what he was doing” during the fateful encounter with Floyd.
Protests continue to this day. The scene appeared far quieter Sunday in Minneapolis, where Law&Crime Network reporter Angenette Levy covered a silent march.
— Angenette Levy (@Angenette5) March 7, 2021
3. Cause of Death
The medical examiner determined that Floyd died from cardiopulmonary arrest suffered while officers restrained him. He had arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease, and there was fentanyl in his system, and evidence of recent methamphetamine use. From the complaint:
The ME opined that the effects of the officers’ restraint of Mr. Floyd, his underlying health conditions, and the presence of the drugs contributed to his death. The ME listed the cause of death as “[c]ardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” and concluded the manner of death was homicide.
Before the release of the state’s autopsy, Floyd’s family held their own analysis. Forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden–who is husband of Law&Crime Network host, criminal defense lawyer, and analyst Linda Kenney Baden—said that the cause of death was due to the compression of the neck, interfering with blood flow and oxygen going to the brain.
“Unfortunately, many police are under the impression if you can talk, that means you’re breathing,” Baden said.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He used to face a charge of third-degree murder but trial Judge Peter Cahill threw it out last October. He may well reinstate it soon because of an appellate court hearing. This could make a big difference on the sentencing, assuming there is a conviction in the first place.
The dispute over this charge stems over whether it requires the defendant to endanger multiple people, not just one. Cahill thought it was multiple people. Case law changed on February 1 in which the Minneapolis Court of Appeals upheld the third-degree murder conviction of Mohamed Noor, another fired Minneapolis police officer who was tried for shooting 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk while on-duty.
The court ruled 2-1 against this defendant, saying multiple targets were not necessary for the charge to stand. Accordingly, Chauvin prosecutors asked Cahill to reinstate the third-degree murder charge. The judge said no, reasoning that the appeal process in the Noor case was ongoing, and therefore the February 1 ruling was not precedential. He sided with the dissent in the Noor case. In his view, third-degree murder under the case law required multiple people to be endangered.
Chauvin prosecutors pushed the matter to the Court of Appeals, which ruled that Cahill erred in refusing to reinstate the charge. Their February 1 ruling was in fact precedential, they said. The ongoing appeals process had nothing to do with it.
“If the Floyd/Chauvin court reinstates this count, prosecutors will be given back a great advantage that was taken away when the court dismissed this count,” Bob Bianchi, a Law&Crime Network host, criminal defense lawyer, and former prosecutor unaffiliated with the Floyd case, told Law&Crime in an email on Friday. “If the 3rd degree murder charge is reinstated the jury will have an option other than just dropping it down to a manslaughter conviction. The importance of this is in the numbers. A conviction for 3rd-degree murder is a max 25 years; and manslaughter is a max 10 years. This is why you see the lawyers slugging it out on this issue.”
5. Separate Trial for Co-Defendants
Thao, Lane, and Kueng, who face lesser charges in the case for allegedly aiding and abetting, are set for trial to begin August 23.
6. When and Where to Watch the Chauvin Trial
The Law&Crime Network is scheduled to bring live coverage every day from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. ET. We’re available in a wide array of platforms, including Sling, TiVo, and more recently, Peacock. You can read the extensive list of our providers here.
Jury selection begins Monday, March 8. This process may take time. Both sides will question each potential juror one by one instead of in groups. That means they are only set for eight on a given day.
Opening statements are scheduled no earlier than March 29, even if jury selection ends before that. The trial is scheduled to last two to four weeks.
[Mugshot via Hennepin County Jail]
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