State of Minnesota v Derek Michael Chauvin

Evelyn Sorg '24, Staff Writer

“I can’t breathe.” On May 25th, 2020, an African-American man named George Floyd uttered those words when he was arrested after allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill in a grocery store. He died after former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, forced Mr. Floyd to the ground and placed his knee on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. As a crowd began to gather trying to convince Mr. Chauvin to remove his knee, 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, was able to capture a video of the arrest that has since been shown across the globe sparking protests and walks out that hadn’t been seen since Rodney King.


On May 26th, 2020 Mr. Chauvin was fired from the Minneapolis police department, and three days later was arrested. Mr. Chauvin was charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. His trial began on March 8th, 2021 in the Minnesota Fourth Judicial District Court. Opening statements from both the prosecution and the defense were heard on March 29th, where Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell started by saying that “Mr. Chauvin betrayed his badge” while defense attorney Eric Nelson said that “Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do.”


The prosecution began to present its case after the open statements and rested on April 13th after 11 days of testimony from 38 witnesses. Their goal is to convince the jury that, beyond any reasonable doubt, Mr. Chauvin is guilty of the crimes that he is being charged with. One of the most damning pieces of evidence that came from the prosecution was its emotional witness testimonies as well as body camera footage, surveillance footage from the grocery store, and the video taken by Darnella Frazier. After Mr. Floyd was taken into an ambulance, Mr. Chauvin’s body camera showed him approaching a bystander who protested the incident. Mr. Chauvin can be heard saying “That’s one person’s opinion, we had to control this guy because he’s a sizable guy. It looks like he’s probably on something.”


The defense began its case on April 13th, 2021, and concluded on April 15 after two days of testimony from seven witnesses. Mr. Chauvin decided not to testify, exercising his Fifth Amendment Right. The defense’s goal is to plant a seed of doubt within the jury that wouldn’t allow them to prove their client guilty “beyond any reasonable doubt.” The main argument that the defense was presenting was that Mr. Floyd’s death was caused by a heart issue that may have been influenced by his use of the drugs fentanyl and methamphetamine. David Fowler, a retired forensic pathologist who testified in favor of the defense, gave his thoughts on the matter. “In my opinion, Mr. Floyd had a sudden cardiac arrhythmia … due to his atherosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease … during his restraint and subdual by the police.”


The closing arguments were made on April 19th, both sides each gave the jury their final statements. For the prosecution, lawyer Steve Schleicher began by saying “His name was George Perry Floyd Jr.” adding later that, Mr. Chauvin’s killing of Mr. Floyd “wasn’t policing, this was murder.” For the defense, Mr. Nelson stated that a “reasonable police officer would understand this situation,” arguing that “Floyd was able to overcome the efforts of three police officers while handcuffed.” For the state’s rebuttal, Mr. Blackwell asked the jury to “believe your eyes.”

Jury deliberations began on April 19th, 2021, directly following the closing arguments. On April 20th the jury announced that they had reached a verdict after 10 hours of deliberation. Mr. Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts and could face up to a maximum of 40 years in prison. However, according to the Minnesota sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence of 12.5 years since Mr. Chauvin is a first-time offender. Once the verdict was read, a crowd that could be seen in front of the courthouse, as well as George Floyd Square, screamed out in both relief and celebration. Many could be heard saying, “George Floyd can finally breathe.”