The jury in the trial of former white police officer Derek Chauvin, accused of killing African-American George Floyd last year, reached a verdict on Tuesday, the Minneapolis court said. Chauvin, 45, is charged with three counts of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, in a case that sparked protests against racial injustice and police brutality around the world.
The 12-member jury – seven women and five men representing Minneapolis’ racial diversity – deliberated behind closed doors for four hours Monday afternoon at the end of a three-week trial, and reconvened Tuesday morning. In his final instructions, Judge Peter Cahill highlighted the seriousness of the case, which comes amid heightened tension fueled by other deaths of black people at the hands of white police officers.
“They should not allow prejudice, passion, sympathy or public opinion to influence their decision,” Cahill said. “They should not consider the consequences or sanctions that could derive from their verdict.”
A unanimous verdict is required for conviction on any of the three charges: second degree murder, third degree murder, or manslaughter. Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, faces a maximum of 40 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, the most serious charge.
Pending the jury’s pronouncement, American cities were bracing for eventual unrest, and Minneapolis was under unprecedented security measures. Speaking to reporters, President Joe Biden earlier deemed the evidence “overwhelming” and called for a “correct” verdict. The ex-police officer was videotaped kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, even as the burly 46-year-old man in handcuffs pleaded “Please, I can’t breathe.”
The images, taken by passersby witnesses to the arrest of Floyd, accused of buying cigarettes with a fake $ 20 bill, were seen by millions of people inside and outside the country. Biden told reporters in the Oval Office that he had spoken by phone with “George’s family,” whom he met last June before Floyd’s funeral. “I can only imagine the pressure and anxiety they feel,” he said. “They are a good family and they are asking for peace and quiet, no matter what that verdict is.” I pray that the verdict is correct. I think it’s overwhelming from my point of view. I wouldn’t say this if the jury weren’t isolated, ”he said.
Amid fears of unrest, National Guard troops were deployed to Minneapolis and Washington, the nation’s capital. Minneapolis has been the scene of nighttime protests since Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man, was gunned down in a Minnesota suburb on April 11 by white police.
Some 400 protesters marched through the city on Monday demanding Chauvin’s conviction, chanting: “The world is watching, we are watching, do the right thing.”
In Washington, the National Guard said it would have about 250 troops “to support the local police” against possible demonstrations. Prosecutors, in their closing arguments Monday, showed excerpts from the heartbreaking video of Floyd’s death.
“They can believe what they saw,” said prosecutor Steve Schleicher. “It was not about police surveillance, it was about murder,” he insisted. “Nine minutes and 29 seconds of shocking abuse of authority”. “The defendant is guilty of all three counts. And there is no excuse, “he said.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson assured the jury that Chauvin “did not use illegal force on purpose.” “This was not a strangulation,” he said, and justified the actions of Chauvin and the other policemen who kept Floyd on the ground.
According to Nelson, Floyd’s heart disease and his drug use were deciding factors. Much of the discovery phase of the trial revolved around whether Chauvin had used reasonable or excessive force.
Medical experts from the prosecution said that Floyd died from lack of oxygen from having Chauvin’s knee in his neck and that the drugs had no effect. The defense called a retired police officer who said Chauvin’s use of force against Floyd was “justified.”
Police officers who testified for the indictment, including the Minneapolis police chief, said it was excessive and unnecessary. The verdict will also affect Derek Chauvin’s three former colleagues – Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao – who will be tried in August for “complicity in murder.”
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