A former Minneapolis police officer went on trial Monday in the death of George Floyd, which sparked outrage across the U.S. and beyond.
A jury of 14 people will hear the case — eight who are white and six who are Black or multiracial, according to the court. Two of the 14 will be alternates. The judge has not said which ones will be alternates and which ones will deliberate the case.
Floyd, 46, died in May 2020 after Derek Chauvin held him to the ground with a knee to the neck for nearly nine minutes despite the Black man crying out that he couldn”t breathe.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Unintentional second-degree murder is punishable by up to 40 years in prison in Minnesota, with up to 25 years for third-degree murder, but sentencing guidelines suggest that Chauvin would face 12 and a half years in prison if convicted on either charge. Manslaughter has a maximum 10-year sentence.
‘Until the very life was squeezed out of him’
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told jurors in his opening statement that Chauvin “didn’t let up, he didn’t get up” even after Floyd said 27 times that he couldn’t breathe and went motionless.
“He put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath — no ladies and gentlemen — until the very life, was squeezed out of him,” Blackwell said.
He said bystander witnesses would include a Minneapolis Fire Department first responder who wanted to administer aid. He said Chauvin pointed Mace at her.
“She wanted to check on his pulse, check on Mr. Floyd’s well-being,” Blackwell said. “She did her best to intervene. When she approached Mr. Chauvin .. Mr. Chauvin reached for his Mace and pointed it in her direction. She couldn’t help.”
Legal experts said they expected prosecutors to play a bystander video of the incident to the jury early on.
Almost all of the jurors selected during more than two weeks of questioning said they had seen at least parts of the video, and several acknowledged it gave them at least a somewhat negative view of Chauvin. But they said they could set that aside.
‘A slam dunk’
Outside the courthouse, Monday ahead of opening statements, Floyd family attorney Ben Crump said the trial would be a test of “whether America is going to live up to the Declaration of Independence.” And he blasted the idea that it would be a tough test for jurors.
Floyd’s family and supporters also knelt before the trial’s opening outside the courthouse for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time Chauvin held Floy to the ground until he went limp.
The trial is expected to last about four weeks at the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, which has been fortified with concrete barriers, fencing, and barbed and razor wire. City and state leaders are determined to prevent a repeat of damaging riots that followed Floyd’s death, and National Guard troops have already been mobilized.
The key questions at trial will be whether Chauvin caused Floyd’s death and whether his actions were reasonable.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, was expected to use his opening statement to tell jurors that medical testimony and use of force experts will show a different view. Nelson has made clear that the defense will make an issue of Floyd swallowing drugs before his arrest, seeking to convince the jury that he was at least partially responsible for his death.
The county medical examiner’s autopsy noted fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system, but listed his cause of death as “cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”
“This case to us is a slam dunk, because we know the video is the proof, it’s all you need,” Floyd’s brother Philonise said Monday on NBC’s “Today” show. “The guy was kneeling on my brother’s neck … a guy who was sworn in to protect. He killed my brother in broad daylight. That was a modern-day lynching.”