“What you saw happened”, “use common sense”, prosecutor says in closing argument of Chauvin trial

In his closing argument on Day 15 of the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, Prosecutor Steven Schleicher urged the jury to believe what they saw on video and exercise common sense. “It was a homicide,” and “it was asphyxia,” Schleicher stated to the jury. That there “was simply not enough oxygen” getting into the lungs is what led to Floyd’s death, Schleicher argued.

On the first day of the trial, the prosecution had shown the entire 9 min 29 sec video of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the defendant, with his knees pressed on Floyd’s neck and back, as Floyd lay pressed to the concrete. Some members of the jury had reportedly never seen the video up until that moment.

Today, Schleicher drew a contrast between the forthcoming deliberations and eventual decision of the jury with the decisions Minneapolis police officers had made on the day of Floyd’s death last May.

He said officers first exercised “poor judgment” when they attempted to force Floyd into the back of the police vehicle before making a series of excessive maneuvers. He paused the video of the first officer attempting to place a handcuffed Floyd into the vehicle and asked the jury to look into Floyd’s eyes to see his terror at being forced to sit in the back seat.

The officer should have recognized the look on Floyd’s face and changed tactic, Schleicher said.

From the video shown today, Floyd was taken out of the car and pushed onto his knees. From there, officers then put Floyd on his side in a “prone recovery position” which allows air to pass into the lungs. Floyd was subsequently pressed into a “prone position” – a “transitory position” typically used to handcuff people before turning them over or picking them off from the ground because of the danger of cutting off airflow to the lungs, Schleicher pointed out.

Instead of quickly changing his position, not only was Floyd held there, Chauvin applied pressure specifically to his neck and back while other officers held Floyd’s feet and further restrained him.

Amidst all this, Floyd had simply thanked the officer for taking him out of the back of the police vehicle, Schleicher noted.

Meanwhile, Schleicher said the jury was responsible to decide only whether Chauvin was guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and clarified that their decision on whether Chauvin’s actions were, in the legal language, a “substantial causal factor” to Floyd’s death did not mean other factors – drug use, heart disease, exhaust fumes from the police vehicle, among other proposed causes – may have contributed to his death.

The jury was therefore not “required” to accept those other, “unreasonable” arguments of causes of death because their decision does not rest on the charges being proven “beyond all doubt” or “beyond an unreasonable doubt.”

“Reasonable doubt,” Schleicher said, was simply an act of reasoning with the facts and exercising “common sense”. He said jurors are “not required to leave common sense” outside of the courthouse, but should instead “rely” on it.

And officers’ actions, particularly those of Chauvin, “flies in the face of common sense,” Schleicher said.

He added that Dr. Tobin, the only pulmonologist or “lung doctor” to testify, had in his viewing of the video said it appeared Floyd was suffering from oxygen deprivation, or in other words, asphyxia.

To assist the jury in making reasonable, common sense judgments about the cause of Floyd’s death, Schleicher suggested they “have a logical way to focus deliberations,” though he added it was ultimately up to them to decide on how they would approach and reason with all that had been presented over the past three weeks of the trial.

Derek Chauvin faces charges of second- and third- degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

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