The nine-minute, 29-second video played during the opening day of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial showed that his victim, George Floyd, was an unarmed man at his mercy, prosecutors said Monday.
“On May 25, 2020, Derek Chauvin put his knees upon [Floyd’s] neck and back, grinding and crushing him until the very breath, the very life, was squeezed out of him,” prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told jurors. “You will learn what happened in that nine minutes and 29 seconds, the most important numbers you will hear at this trial.”
But according to Chauvin’s defense team, Floyd, who was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes, was under the influence of narcotics at the time of his run-in with police and would not comply with Chauvin and other officers at the scene, who struggled to restrain him.
“Common sense tells you that there are always two sides to a story,” defense attorney Eric Nelson said. “The evidence is far greater than nine minutes and 29 seconds.”
The trial against Chauvin got underway Monday in Minneapolis with opening statements from Nelson and Blackwell and testimony from three witnesses, including a bystander who said he witnessed Floyd’s final moments.
But on the first day of the trial, Blackwell’s star witness was the video itself.
“For the first four minutes and 45 seconds you will learn that Mr. Floyd was crying for his life,” Blackwell said, before the video was played for the jury. “For the remaining four minutes [and] 44 seconds, Mr. Floyd was either unconscious, breathless or pulseless. And the compression, the squeezing, the grinding went on just the same for the total of nine minutes and 29 seconds.”
After the video was shown to the jury, Blackwell said “a number of bystanders” at the scene “called the police on the police.” They included Donald Williams, a prosecution witness who testified that he watched as Floyd struggled to breathe while under Chauvin’s knee.
“You can see him almost gasping for air,” Williams said.
Williams, a student of martial arts, also analyzed the techniques Chauvin used to restrain Floyd, telling prosecutors that the officer used a move called a “shimmy” on Floyd’s neck so as to strengthen his hold on him.
The defense has yet to question Williams, who was Monday’s third witness of the day and whose testimony will continue on Tuesday. The other two witnesses were Jena Scurry, the 911 dispatcher who watched Floyd’s death on surveillance footage in real time, and Alisha Oyler, a gas station clerk who filmed the altercation between Floyd and police.
In his opening statement, Nelson explained to the jury how the incident had unfolded from the point of view of the officers. He described Floyd as combative and resistant, and said the evidence will show that, when confronted by police, he “put drugs in his mouth in an effort to conceal them” from the officers.
When Chauvin responded to the scene at approximately 8:15 p.m., Nelson said, the “first thing he sees” is two officers struggling with Floyd.
“You will see that three Minneapolis police officers could not overcome the strength of Mr. Floyd,” Nelson said. “Mr. Chauvin stands [at] 5-foot-9, 140 pounds. Mr. Floyd is 6-foot-three, and weighs 223 pounds.”
Nelson told the jury they will hear several interviews between law enforcement and Dr. Andrew Baker, who conducted an autopsy on Floyd for the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, that will show that Baker “found none of what are referred to as the telltale signs of asphyxiation.”
“There were no bruises on Floyd’s neck,” Nelson said. “There was no petechial hemorrhaging, which can indicate asphyxia. There was no evidence that Floyd’s airflow was restricted.”
Nelson noted the autopsy report, which was released June 1 and stated that Floyd, 46, died from “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” The report, Nelson said, also listed “other significant conditions,” including heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and “recent methamphetamine use.”
A separate autopsy commissioned by the family found that Floyd died from asphyxiation from sustained pressure.
Chauvin is standing trial on charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
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