By Anand Vasu
On March 29, 12 jurors and two alternates in Minneapolis started to hear opening arguments in the trial of Derek Chauvin. It began with the video of Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck being shown to the jury.
This comes ten months after the death of African American Floyd at the hands of Chauvin, a White, 19-year-veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department. The officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes, an incident that went on to cause worldwide uproar.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter. The trial, which is expected to last weeks, is being broadcast live. For live updates, you can also take a look at the New York Times website here.
Jury selection took two weeks and those eventually picked admitted that they were aware of the responsibility they were taking on, and said that they knew the world would be watching this trial.
At a church in the vicinity of where the original incident happened, with Floyd’s family in attendance, the choir sang: “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.”
Shortly before the service, Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, said that he was confident that prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general’s office would see Chauvin convicted. “The video is the proof,” Philonise added.
The defense is likely to lean on medical evidence that will suggest that Floyd’s death was not a murder, and that his death was a result of pre-existing medical conditions and drugs in his system, CBS Minnesota reported.
The medical examiner’s report has found that there were “potentially lethal levels of fentanyl” in Floyd’s body. Fentanyl is an opioid used as pain medication, and in conjunction with other drugs can act as an anesthetic.
“I think what he is going to hit hard on opening statements is that this case is about cause of death. The cause of death versus use of force,” Joe Tamburino, a criminal defense attorney not affiliated with the case, told CBS Minnesota. “That’s the running battle in this case and I think that’s what he is going to hit hard, which is this is all about cause of death being a natural cause or a cause because of drug use.”
Chauvin faces three charges, of which second-degree murder carries the highest penalty: Imprisonment for up to 40 years. According to state statute, the prosecution will have to prove that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death “while committing or attempting to commit a felony offence.” The felony offence referred to in this case is assault.
Third-degree murder carries a penalty of up to 25 years while second-degree manslaughter carries 10 years. The last charge carried the lowest burden of proof and prosecutors would have to prove that Floyd’s death was caused by Chauvin’s negligence in creating “an unreasonable risk,” and “consciously (taking) chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.”
State Attorney General Keith Ellison is leading the prosecution while Eric Nelson will appear in Chauvin’s defense. Chauvin’s legal defense is being covered by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. Despite being fired by Minnesota Police, Chauvin is eligible to have his legal expenses covered.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill is presiding over the trial. Cahill was appointed to the job in 2017 and elected in 2018.