Jurors were shown in its entirety the harrowing video of George Floyd’s death as opening statements got underway Monday, with prosecutors accusing former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin of using “excessive and unreasonable force” during the deadly encounter.
“Nine-twenty-nine — the three most important numbers in this case,” Jerry Blackwell, a private attorney serving on the prosecution team, told the 12 jurors in Hennepin County District Court. “That’s how long that went on. For half of that time, Mr. Floyd was unconscious, breathless, and pulseless.”
Chauvin, 45, wearing a gray suit, tie and surgical face mask, appeared emotionless in court while the footage was played, periodically jotting down notes on a notepad.
The trial is being livestreamed online but the jurors are not being shown on camera.
Floyd’s family watched the proceedings via live stream from an overflow room and one of his relatives was present in the courtroom.
The case is likely to hinge largely on the viral video of the fatal encounter and evidence relating to Floyd’s health — with Nelson arguing that drugs ingested by Floyd, as well as a pre-existing heart condition, played a role in his death.
“You will learn that on May 25, 2020 that Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd,” Blackwell told jurors, “that 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.”
The prosecutor said that several bystanders — who he called “a veritable bouquet of humanity” — repeatedly tried to get the cop to take his knee off Floyd’s neck to no avail.
Blackwell outlined his case against Chauvin, saying jurors will hear from a variety of witnesses, including bystanders who recorded video as Floyd took his final breaths. Medical experts will also be called to the stand to chronicle how slowly Floyd died.
“He died one breath at a time over an extended period of time,” said Blackwell. “This was not an instant death.”
During his opening statements later Monday morning, Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson told the jury that Floyd’s drug use and ill health caused his death.
“The evidence will show that when confronted by police, Mr. Floyd put drugs in his mouth in an effort to conceal them from police,” Nelson said.
He said a search of Floyd’s car later turned up two pills containing a mixture of fentanyl and methamphetamine — a concoction known as a “speed ball.” Floyd also suffered from other health issues, an autopsy revealed, including an enlarged heart and coronary disease.
“What was Mr. Floyd’s actual cause of death?” Nelson asked.
Nelson said Floyd also struggled with cops — noting that “three Minneapolis police officers could not overcome the strength of Mr. Floyd .. This was not an easy struggle.”
He added that police and emergency responders were distracted from helping Floyd after he stopped moving because an unruly crowd began to gather at the intersection.
“There is no political or social cause in this courtroom,” Nelson said. “But the evidence is far greater than 9 minutes and 29 seconds in this case. You will learn that the evidence has been collected broadly and expansively.”
Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, who heads the prosecution team, is expected to argue during the trial that Floyd died as a result of Chauvin pressing his knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes, despite Floyd’s repeated pleas that he could not breathe.
Two separate autopsies, including an independent review, ruled the death a homicide.
The video, which sparked worldwide outrage, shows Floyd being arrested by police after allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a local convenience store.
Floyd repeatedly tells the officers that he is claustrophobic and does not want to be put in a police vehicle, leading to a scuffle with the cops — and Chauvin pressing his knee on him.
In a decision ahead of opening statements, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill ruled that defense attorneys can argue that Floyd “appeared to not be complying,” but can’t say he was resisting.
Chauvin is charged with third-degree murder, second-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He faces up to 40 years in prison on the second-degree murder charge.
All 15 jurors selected over the past three weeks appeared in court Monday morning, with Cahill dismissing one — a white man in his 20s who was the last one picked Tuesday.
There are now 12 jurors consisting of two white men, four white women, three black men, one back woman, and two women who identify as multi-racial.
The two others will serve as alternates.