“Facing George Floyd that day did not require one ounce of courage, and none was shown on that day,” he told the jury. “All that was required was a little compassion, and none was shown on that day. … This wasn’t policing. This was murder.”
Throughout the trial, defence attorney Eric Nelson worked to sow reasonable doubt among jurors, trying to convince them that Floyd’s preexisting health conditions mattered more to the final outcome than Chauvin’s actions. The officers, Nelson suggested, were simply following police training and doing their best to make decisions under pressure while facing a possible threat from the small group of onlookers, several of whom were filming the incident on their phones. Nelson used the drugs in Floyd’s system and his documented heart disease to substantiate the argument.
Anticipating the defence’s focus on Floyd’s health, prosecutors were aided by several medical experts who said Floyd died of asphyxia, a common term for a lack of oxygen. They dismissed claims that drugs or underlying health issues played major roles in his death.
Dr Martin Tobin, a top pulmonologist who works for a Chicago hospital, spent hours on the stand explaining with the help of slides, graphs and 3-D renderings how Floyd’s positioning made it difficult ― and then impossible ― for him to breathe. Jurors followed along as Tobin showed how various parts of Floyd’s anatomy were impacted, encouraging them to feel corresponding parts of their own necks.
Several of Chauvin’s former colleagues provided criticism of his actions, breaking the so-called “blue wall of silence”. Most notably, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified that Chauvin “absolutely” violated the department’s use-of-force policy.
Chauvin, however, chose not to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination on the final day of the evidentiary portion of the trial.
Experts called by the defense pointed to the unpredictable nature of police work and suggested the unusually large amount of video evidence still might not have told the whole story at the scene.
Police had been called to Cup Foods after a young cashier told his boss that he suspected Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. The store had a policy that if a cashier accepted a fake bill, the amount would taken from their own wages. The cashier, Christopher Martin, 19, testified about the guilt he felt over Floyd’s death.
“If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided,” Martin said in court.
Several of the state’s first few witnesses similarly felt emotional over the incident. Darnella Frazier, 18, the girl who filmed the video of Floyd’s arrest that went viral in the aftermath, said Floyd appeared “terrified”.
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad,” Frazier testified. “I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins. I look at my uncles. Because they are all Black. … And I look at how that could have been one of them.”
Frazier’s 9-year-old cousin who was with her at the time also spoke up in court.
Outside the courtroom were scenes of resistance: protesters carrying Black Lives Matter signs and flags rallied, at one point observing 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence led by the Rev Al Sharpton ― the amount of time it was initially reported that Chauvin had knelt on top of Floyd. (The trial subsequently revealed the restraint to have lasted nearly 10 minutes.)
The mood shifted toward urgency by the end of the trial, after police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota ― a half-hour drive north of Cup Foods ― killed a Black man on April 11. Daunte Wright, 20, was shot by a veteran officer who says she mistook her firearm for a stun gun.
To the south, in Chicago, a police accountability group released body camera video on April 15 showing the shocking death of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who had empty hands raised when an officer shot and killed him.
Chauvin’s conviction will undoubtedly raise questions in police departments across the country about use-of-force policies and how officers’ actions will be evaluated.
“Police departments need to be reexamining their practices,” Barbara McQuade, University of Michigan law professor and a former US attorney, told HuffPost. The Chauvin case may “send a message”, she said, “that police officers will “no longer get the benefit of the doubt from a jury the way maybe you did 10 or 20 years ago”.
“And so you need to conform your behavior to a higher standard, because if you don’t, you will be held accountable,” McQuade said.