“You Can Believe Your Eyes:” Closing Arguments Conclude In Derek Chauvin Trial

Op-Ed by Maryam Henein

“His name was George Perry Floyd,” the prosecution opined to jurors in closing arguments in the epic Derek Chauvin murder trial.

After several intense weeks, nearly six hours of closing arguments and rebuttal Monday, the jury was led away by a deputy for deliberations.

Closing arguments began and concluded on Monday, April 19th after Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who has been presiding over the case since March 8, read the jury instructions on the law.

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher took the floor first and used 1 hour and 45 minutes to argue that Chauvin’s pinning of Floyd on the pavement at 38th and Chicago robbed 46-year-old Floyd of oxygen.

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First off, the prosecution’s over use of dramatic effect was not lost on all. Hopefully not to the jury either, as it cheapened Floyd’s death and painted him like a helpless victim and not someone who lent to the experience he had.

“They played to the cheap seats,” remarked trial lawyer Robert Barnes.

Prosecutors, who contend the knee on the neck killed Floyd, could be used as an example of illustrating that the power lies in accusations.

The prosecution instructed the jury to reject Derek Chauvin’s “nonsense” claims that Floyd suddenly died from a drug overdose, heart disease, or exhaust fumes from the police car.

“The only thing about the defendant’s intent that we have to prove is that he applied force to George Floyd on purpose,” Schleicher said.

“Somebody’s telling you they can’t breathe and you keep doing it. You’re doing it on purpose. … How can you justify the continued force on this man when he has no pulse?”

The prosecutor reminded jurors that Floyd said “I can’t breathe” 27 times in the first 4 minutes and 45 seconds of this encounter. However, he did not mention that Floyd said “I can’t breathe” seven times before Chauvin ever got to the scene.

Nonetheless, the prosecution cast the blame on Chauvin.

“Was George Floyd resisting when he was trying to breathe? No,” he said, adding that Chauvin chose to mock Floyd by saying, “It takes a lot of oxygen to complain.”

Throughout his presentation, Schleicher repeatedly said “9 minutes and 29 seconds”, reminding jurors of the length of time that Chauvin had Floyd pinned to the pavement.

After focusing on the officer’s actions, his training, and the medical evidence in the case, Schleicher called on the jurors to convict Chauvin on all counts because “it is not an excuse for the shocking abuse you saw with your own eyes.”

“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw. It’s what you felt in your gut, it’s what you felt in your heart.”

From the get-go, “you can see it with your own eyes” has been a theme and a talking point, which is odd since the mainstream media and government officials, like Attorney General Keith Ellison, sat on body-worn camera for months that depicted a different reality than Darnella Frazier’s “bystander” Facebook footage that went viral.

Why was footage that could have prevented riots, fires, and vandalism kept from the public?

Your eyes also cannot read drug levels or the condition of Floyd’s heart. Believe your eyes is more like believe the media lies.

Meanwhile, defense attorney Eric Nelson established earlier during the trial that “no, you cannot just believe things on a screen.” Given movie magic, that’s arguably foolish.

Nelson established that ‘Camera Perspective Bias’ – a concept that came from studies that looked at the effect videotaped confessions could have on jurors and their verdicts – is based on the camera angle used to profile suspects.

Last week, Nelson showed the court footage from another angle where it seems that Chauvin’s knee was more on Floyd’s upper shoulder rather than his neck.

Schleicher meticulously told of the moments of Floyd’s restraint as he “struggled to make enough room in his chest to breathe. But the force was too much. He was trapped [by] the unyielding pavement as unyielding as the men who were pushing him.”

“All that was required was a little compassion, and none was shown that day” by Chauvin, the prosecutor who interspersed his case with photos and video that was part of the previously submitted evidence. “All that was needed was some oxygen.”

Schleicher also said Floyd called the police “Mr. Officer” and “he pleaded with Mr. Officer. George Floyd’s final words were … ‘Please, I can’t breathe.’ And he said those words to Mr. Officer. He said those words to the defendant.”

Schleicher reintroduced to the jurors some of the witnesses to Floyd’s arrest, noting two of them called the police on the police. He explained that Floyd was compliant from the moment he had a police officer’s gun close to his face all the way until officers tried to put him in a squad car, but balked as he said he was claustrophobic.

“He tried to explain to the officers that he had anxiety, that he had claustrophobia,” he said of Floyd’s reaction to squad back seat that looked like a “cage.”

Schleicher said that once the officers gave up their efforts, “what did George Floyd say when they pulled him out of the car? ‘Thank you.'”

But then the officers pushed him down onto his side and placed him on his stomach.

“Proning him was completely unnecessary and this is where the excessive force begins,” Schleicher said. “They didn’t just lay him prone. They didn’t do that. They stayed on top of him.”

Schleicher then went after the defense’s case that various factors led to Floyd dying, among them a heart attack, health problems, illicit drugs, and possibly carbon monoxide from a nearby squad car.

He said it would be “an amazing coincidence [that] he chose at that moment to die of heart disease. … Is that common sense or is that nonsense?”

He did not die of a drug overdose, that’s not how he died,” Schleicher said. “He did not die of excited delirium. … There are no superhumans.” (I’ve witnessed excited delirium unfold before my eyes and this teenager had super human strength.)

Saying drugs as a contributing factor is nonsense is arguably nonsense in itself. 

The prosecutor used the defense’s medical expert against Chauvin, noting that “even Dr. [David] Fowler was critical” under cross-examination last week that neither the defendant nor anyone else gave Floyd medical care.

In closing, he made it clear that policing is a “noble profession” and that Chauvin is the one on trial and not his profession.

“This case is called the State of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin — this case is not called the State of Minnesota vs. the police.”

“The defendant is not on trial for being a police officer. It’s not the State of Minnesota vs. the police. He’s not on trial for what he was, he is on trial for what he did, and that is what he did that day. Nine minutes and 29 seconds.”

He continued: “Sometimes you ask for the truth and sometimes you insist on the truth,” the prosecutor continued, “and the truth is the defendant was on top of him for 9 minutes and 29 seconds,” noting that there was no reason Chauvin didn’t know Floyd was in grave danger. “He had to know. He had to know.”

Failure To Meet Burden Of Proof

Nelson, who took more than 2½ hours until Cahill interrupted him for a lunch break, started by reminding jurors that his client is afforded the presumption of innocence and that the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt before there can be a finding of guilt on any of the charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.

“Take the time and make an honest assessment of the facts of this case,” he said. “We have to be intellectually honest about the evidence; we have to present it in an intellectually cohesive manner. … I submit to you the state has failed to meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

 

During Nelson’s statements, Chauvin took ample notes as he has done throughout the trial. I would love to know what he’s been writing.

“The use of force is an incredibly difficult analysis,” Nelson added. “You can’t limit it to 9 minutes and 29 seconds, but it started nearly 17 minutes earlier.”

Consider that Chauvin arrived at the scene where rookie officers Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were already struggling to get Floyd into a squad car.

This was authorized use of force, “as unattractive as that may be,” Nelson said after lightly pounding his hand onto the lectern to drive his point home.

“There is absolutely no evidence that officer Chauvin intentionally, purposefully applied unlawful force.”

Nelson cited expert witness Dr. Martin Tobin’s rebuttal of a defense expert who said carbon monoxide was a possible factor in Floyd’s death. Tobin testified it wasn’t possible because Floyd’s blood was 98% oxygenated. However, Nelson pointed out the testimony of paramedics who gave Floyd oxygen, which explains the reoxygenation of his blood.

Nelson also challenged another part of Tobin’s testimony when the doctor said Floyd used a knuckle against a squad tire to counter the prone position to be able to breathe is filled with theory, speculation, and assumption,” Nelson said that act lasted but a second and came while Floyd was on his side.

Nelson maintained his client was acting within his bounds. To illustrate, he showed body camera footage of Floyd’s struggle with the officers before he was on the ground.

“A reasonable police officer would hear the words that a suspect is saying — I’m a good guy, I’m claustrophobic — and he’s going to compare those words to the actions of the individual,” Nelson said. “… A reasonable police officer understands the intensity of the struggle … Mr. Floyd was able to overcome the efforts of three police officers while handcuffed with his legs and his body strength.”

During the trial over the last two weeks, Nelson suggested that Floyd might have been concocting reasons so he wouldn’t be arrested. They showed May 2019 cop interaction where Floyd said similar things to avoid arrest.

“Human behavior is unpredictable, and no one knows it better than a police officer.”

Nelson also turned to the testimony from several key witnesses to show that not one of them had the whole story about all of the circumstances surrounding the incident. “Perspective and perception are two different things,” he said.

As an example of this, he referred to bystanders who served as witnesses. Charles McMillian, a 61-year-old man of limited education from the South, had a perspective that was different from 17-year-old high school student Darnella Frazier, off-duty firefighter Genevieve Hansen or martial arts instructor Donald Williams.

Speaking of bystanders, Nelson elaborated on how they grew more agitated, and distracted Chauvin at a critical moment from the restraint he was placing on Floyd.

Nelson pointed out that other things happened almost simultaneously; at the time Floyd took his last breath, Chauvin pulled out his mace, shook the can, and threatened to use it, while Hansen attempted to approach him and startled him.

Other considerations for Chauvin at the scene included the safety of other officers, bystanders, and Floyd, Nelson added. Chauvin also had to consider being in a part of the city known to be a crime hot spot, along with information from dispatch that Floyd was a much larger man than himself who was possibly under the influence of drugs. Chauvin also had to take into account that the two officers who initially answered the call were rookies on the force.

“All of these facts and circumstances simultaneously occur at a critical moment and that changed Officer Chauvin’s perception of what was happening at that moment.”

Having watched this case very closely, it’s legit to wonder why he didn’t relent his knee after Floyd went limp and why CPR was not provided to Floyd.

Turning his attention to Floyd’s cause of death, Nelson accused the prosecution of ignoring the findings of the autopsy pointing to contributing factors and arguing that lack of oxygen alone killed Floyd.

He said answers from five state expert witnesses “fly in the face” of common sense of Floyd dying of asphyxia, especially if you consider the finding of county medical examiner Dr. Andrew Baker, the only person to perform an autopsy.

The prosecution “did not like Dr. Baker’s conclusions,” Nelson said.

And perhaps they couched his testimony with others to confuse everyone?

In his closing argument, Nelson said that “throughout the course of this trial the state has focused your attention on 9 minutes and 29 seconds,” the amount of time his client had Floyd pinned to the pavement. Nelson said jurors must use “proper analysis” and only consider that span of time in “totality of the circumstances” of the incident, starting with the 911 dispatch call.

Once Nelson concluded with why his client should be found not guilty, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell rebutted. He rose to claim that there is another witness in this case for jurors to hear from beyond the 45 who took the stand earlier.

“That witness is ‘common sense,'” he said.

“It is so simple that a child could understand it,” Blackwell. “In fact, a child did,” a reference to a 9-year-old girl who stood nearby and said to police, ” ‘Get off of him.'”

The prosecutor asked rhetorically, “How is that a reasonable exercise in the use of force? You can believe your eyes. It was what it was. It was homicide. … There is no excuse for police abuse.”

“In your custody is in your care, it’s not in your custody, I don’t care,” he said.

While Nelson has referenced that Floyd had a heart that was too big, Blackwell, who has been full of catchy phrases for the media over the weeks, countered, “the reason George Floyd is dead is that Mr. Chauvin’s heart is too small.”

With that, Cahill sent the jurors off to their deliberations shortly before 4 p.m. and reminded them not to be influenced by outside forces including publicity about the case, and weigh the evidence based on the law. Two of the 14 jurors were dismissed and the remaining 12 were escorted out to their room.

“You must be absolutely fair,” the judge said.

The jurors’ first job is to select a foreperson. They will have a laptop computer and monitor to review the substantial amount of video and other exhibits presented over the past few weeks. What they won’t have is a transcript of the testimony. Instead, the jurors must rely on their collective notes and memories.

Jurors will remain sequestered until they reach a verdict and they are read in court before a worldwide Livestream audience. Rather than have the jury return to the courtroom for an answer, this communication will be done by video conference due to the Rona. Deliberations for this case are being done at an undisclosed location, presumably not in the Hennepin County Government Center.

Afterthoughts



Afterward, Nelson called for a mistrial, citing immense media exposure, particularly a comment by Democratic U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).

Over the weekend, she joined demonstrators outside the police station in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and told Americans to take to the streets and get “more confrontational” unless Derek Chauvin is convicted of murder in the death of George Floyd.

“It’s mind-boggling judge,” Eric Nelson said of the barrage of coverage and the impact of a govt official’s message to citizens.

“I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” Judge said, denying the motion although he acknowledged Nelson’s concerns were legitimate.

 

“This goes back to what I’ve been saying from the beginning,” said Judge Cahill. “I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, particularly in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and the judicial branch in our function. Their failure to do so is abhorrent, but I don’t think it has presented us with additional information that would prejudice the jury.”

The incident happened several miles away from the Chauvin trial.

“We’re looking for a guilty verdict,” Waters said. “And we’re looking to see if all of the talks that took place and have been taking place after they saw what happened to George Floyd, if nothing does not happen, then we know that we’ve got to not only stay in the street, but we’ve got to fight for justice,” she said.

But a conviction for manslaughter would not be enough, Waters said. The guilty verdict had to be for murder — which, she added, ought to have been first-degree murder. She also said that Democrats would pass a police reform bill over the objections of “the right-wing, the racists.”

Isn’t this the definition of inciting a riot and violence?

Violence and vandalism have already started in the streets over the past few weeks. And over the weekend, pigs’ blood was smeared across the former home of a police officer who testified on behind of Derek Chauvin witness. A severed PIG’S HEAD was also left on the steps.

A Knee on The Neck of Truth

To speak philosophically for a moment, it’s very easy to “I should” an incident after the fact. It’s rather futile since you cannot put the toothpaste back into the tube. You can only learn if that is the true intent.

In my opinion, there were too many variables; and as defense witness Dr. David Fowler stated, the death was  ‘“undetermined.” Would Floyd have died if he had not taken drugs? Would he have died if he didn’t resist and spaz out and ask to be put on the ground?

Consider a quickly escalating emergency situation and then having it play back with footage but crucial details are left out. All the while, scorned for not doing better and judged by a bias pool (given this skewered version of the case was initially trialed in the media). Now, this in no way is meant to dismiss a death or absolve Chauvin of culpability. But I don’t subscribe to guilty until proven innocent.

For those who paid attention to the trial versus trusting the mainstream news, common sense does not show that Floyd was of the right mind or showing the world his best. Chauvin could have relented sooner and didn’t. But upon arriving to the scene, did he know the full scope of the situation? Whatever is decided, it’s not racism.

As an aside, I do find it strange that despite attorney Benjamin Crump’s promises early on, the relationship between Floyd and Chauvin was never explored. They both just happened to work at El Nuevo Rodeo. Perhaps it was better for the State to keep it out.

Due to the nature of the charges in this case, the counterfeit money operation and the counterfeit pill operation were not appropriate to explore. ‘Friend’ Morries Lester Hall could have been pivotal in establishing the role of the pills in killing Floyd but alas he pleaded the Fifth. In the end, maybe whatever was really going on behind the scenes was too gnarly for even Crump.

I also cannot personally imagine that if I worked at an establishment for 17 years like Chauvin did at El Nuevo that I would not recognize a 6’4 bouncer. And the one dude who confirmed that Floyd and Chauvin butted heads, recanted his story. He said he mixed Floyd up with another black dude. Odd.

While my investigation is not over, I can attest that in the past almost year, I have found a lot of fuckery in Hennepin and Minneapolis. I even came across a Wells Fargo mortgage forgery mill just 25 minutes from Hennepin away in Eagan.

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