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Derek Chauvin's Trial Heads Toward Closing Arguments


The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd will come to a close this week. After three weeks of witness testimony, lawyers will deliver their closing arguments tomorrow and then turn the case over to the jury.

NPR's Adrian Florido has been in Minneapolis covering this trial since it began, and he joins us now. Good morning.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's start with the closing arguments. What are we expecting on Monday?

FLORIDO: Well, the prosecution is going to go first, and it is going to argue this, that Derek Chauvin betrayed his badge and violated policy when he knelt into George Floyd's neck for about nine minutes and that he murdered Floyd by asphyxiating him. And then Chauvin's lawyer will argue that the prosecution didn't prove its case. He'll say Chauvin followed his training, that it wasn't his knee, but other factors like heart disease and drug use that caused Floyd's death. You know, we've had three weeks of testimony, three weeks of evidence presented in court, all really boiling down to those two basic arguments.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've been obviously following every twist and turn. Let's look back at some of the key testimony. The prosecution called 38 witnesses over 11 days, and they seemed to lay out a very deliberate case.

FLORIDO: Yeah, and it started with emotional testimony from bystanders who pleaded with Derek Chauvin to get off of George Floyd's neck that day. One of them was Darnella Frazier, the teenager who filmed the cell phone video that most of the world has seen by now.


DARNELLA FRAZIER: It's been nights I stayed up (crying) apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more.

FLORIDO: You know, hers and all the bystander testimony really highlighted how helpless people felt that day last May watching Floyd die under Chauvin's knee and really their anger that Chauvin wouldn't get off of Floyd's neck. And that fact also came across during testimony from Derek Smith, a paramedic who arrived on the scene and checked Floyd's pulse.


DEREK SMITH: In a living person, there should be a pulse there. I did not feel one. I suspected this patient to be dead.

FLORIDO: Which was really striking testimony, Lulu, because in order to check George Floyd's pulse, he had to reach under Chauvin's knee. Chauvin was still on top of him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Adrian, one of the most unusual things about this trial is that we saw the police testifying against their own.

FLORIDO: That's right. Senior police officers, police department trainers and the Minneapolis police chief himself, Chief Medaria Arradondo, said it was OK for Chauvin to be on top of George Floyd for a few seconds to get him under control but not to stay on his neck after he'd stopped moving.


MEDARIA ARRADONDO: 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 it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is common for prosecutors to sort of save their most important testimony for last. So what was that here?

FLORIDO: In this case, it was the medical testimony, the testimony about the most disputed question in this case, which is George Floyd's cause of death. The prosecution's lung expert, Martin Tobin, said that he spent hours analyzing videos and medical evidence to pinpoint exactly when Chauvin's weight caused George Floyd to stop breathing.


MARTIN TOBIN: The knee remains on the neck for another three minutes and 27 seconds after he takes his last breath. After there's no pulse, the knee remains on the neck for another two minutes and 44 seconds.

FLORIDO: And then an ER doctor, Bill Smock, said that he had absolutely no doubts about why George Floyd died.


BILL SMOCK: He died because he had no oxygen left in his body.

FLORIDO: And that right there is really the heart of the prosecution's case, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. Well, compared to the prosecution, the defense put on a very short case, calling witnesses for just two days. How come?

FLORIDO: Well, the defense only has to raise doubt in the mind of one juror to prevent a conviction in this case. Defense attorney Eric Nelson tried to accomplish that with just seven witnesses and really two main witnesses. The first was a use of force expert named Barry Brodd, who said that Chauvin did nothing wrong by kneeling on George Floyd's neck because Floyd posed a threat to him.


BARRY BRODD: I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified, was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement in his interactions with Mr. Floyd.

FLORIDO: And the defense's other main witness was a forensic pathologist, David Fowler, who argued that Chauvin did not asphyxiate Floyd as the prosecution has said he did. Rather, he said that Floyd's heart stopped suddenly because of heart disease and the drugs that he was on that day. He also suggested - though he had no medical evidence to support it - that Floyd could have been poisoned by carbon monoxide because he was facing the police car's exhaust pipe. He was being pinned down next to the police car. Because Fowler was the defense's most important witness, though, he's the one they ended with. And Derek Chauvin did not take the stand.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is the mood there in Minneapolis, Adrian?

FLORIDO: Well, listen to Faries Morrison (ph), who yesterday was visiting the memorial at the intersection where George Ford died. He said that if there's no conviction in this case...

FARIES MORRISON: It'll explode. It will explode. It won't riot; it will explode. It will be a revolt.

FLORIDO: So that is the feeling here, Lulu, and the worry.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. That's NPR's Adrian Florido in Minneapolis. Thank you so much.

FLORIDO: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
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