By Makenna Adams
“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” adamantly urged prosecutor Steve Schleicher to the jury present at the trial for Chauvin v. The State of Minnesota. Made up of four Black individuals, two individuals who identify as multiracial, and six white individuals, the jury present determined that 45-year-old Derek Chauvin, who recieved conviction for the murder of George Floyd, was guilty as charged.
On April 20, the jury in Minneapolis, MN found Derek Chauvin guilty on three counts: unintentional second degree muder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter of George Floyd. Global audiences have been anxiously awaiting the trial since Memorial Day 2020, when a 17-year old bystander caught Chauvin’s crime on film. The death of Floyd brought attention to the relevant issue of police violence and systemic racism, and calls for justice began months before the trial finally commenced.
At the trials, individuals who testified spoke on topics like medical and forensic pathology, police training, and police officer’s use of force. Defending Chauvin was attorney Eric Nelson, who worked independently, while the prosecuting team was led by a group—assistant attorney generals Matthew Frank and Erin Eldridge, along with outside Lawyers Jerry Blackwell and Steve Schleider.
Primarily, Nelson argued that Floyd’s death occurred due to a number of extenuating circumstances, rather than asphyxiation from Chauvin’s knee, which is shown in the video. Citing Floyd’s enlarged heart, fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system, and carbon monoxide from car exhaust, Nelson attempted to convince the jury that other factors caused Floyd’s death. Mostly, Nelson aimed to make jurors doubt the state’s case. Nelson maintained that Chauvin’s actions resembled those of a “reasonable police officer” under “stressful and chaotic circumstances.”
Nelson spent most of his time questioning a retired forensic pathologist named Dr. David Fowler, who stated that a sudden cardiac event, opioids and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system, and possibly carbon monoxide poisoning played a role in his death. Fowler opposed the Hennepin County medical examiner’s conclusion which labeled Floyd’s death as “homicide.” Instead, Fowler claimed that “undetermined” would be a more fitting conviction.
Yet the actual medical examiner of Floyd’s case, Dr. Andrew Baker, contended that “the law enforcement subdual, restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take, by virtue of those heart conditions… while fentanyl and heart disease may have contributed to Floyd’s death, they were not the direct cause.”
Other medical and forensic witnesses called by the prosecution agreed. “Mr. George Floyd died from a cardiopulmonary arrest. It was caused by low oxygen levels. And those low oxygen levels were induced by the prone restraint and positional asphyxiation that he was subjected to,” stated a cardiologist named Dr. Jonathan Rich. Arguing that the pressure from Chauvin’s knee, coupled with the officer’s weight, on Floyd’s neck and back caused the victim’s death, the prosecution asserted that Floyd’s death was a direct result of Chauvin’s actions. They concluded that Floyd’s heart stopped after receiving insufficient oxygen levels, which caused a brain injury, arrhythmia, and his death.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo also spoke about Chauvin’s response at the scene. “There is an initial reasonableness in trying to get him under control in the first few seconds,” Arradondo testified, “but once there was no longer any resistance, and clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, to continue to apply that level of force to a person proned out, handcuffed behind their back — that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy, is not part of our training and is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.”
Deep emotion characterized the trial. Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, prayed in the courtroom. When asked why, Floyd responded “I was just praying they would find him guilty. As an African American, we usually never get justice.”
Arguably, justice has been served, at least in a small dose. Finally convicted as guilty, Chauvin will face jail time for his charges. For his offense of unintentional second-degree murder, which is defined as “causing death without intent to do so, while committing or attempting to commit a felony offense,” he could serve maximum 40 years time. He could serve another 25 years for committing third-degree murder, which is defined as “causing death to an individual perpetrating an act imminently dangerous to others and evidencing a depraved mind without regard for human life but without the intent to cause death.” Third, Chauvin’s charge of second-degree manslaughter could earn him 10 year’s time, and second-degree manslaughter consists of “causing the death of another by culpable negligence, creating an unreasonable risk” in which the defendant “consciously takes the risk of causing death or great bodily harm to another individual.”Finally, the Minnesota state sentencing encourages 12.5 years in prison for a conviction on unintentional second-degree murder for someone with no criminal history. Yet if Judge Peter Cahill determines there were aggravating factors, prosecutors could issue a sentence up to the maximum of 40 years on that charge.