Story at a glance

  • The trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd began in Minneapolis on Monday.
  • The defense argues that Floyd had drugs in his system at the time of his death.

The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged for the death of George Floyd, began Monday with opening statements from the prosecution and defense in a rare televised trial.

Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died while in police custody during an arrest in May 2020. Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes despite Floyd’s cries for air. His killing renewed the Black Lives Matter movement both across the country and the world, with activists calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism. 

This is the first time a Minnesota trial has been broadcast, with media outlets livestreaming the trial and live coverage on Court TV. Judge Peter Cahill made the unprecedented decision to expand access in part because of COVID-19, according to NPR. Pandemic spacing requirements meant the smaller public gallery couldn't be used, so there were only two seats left for reporters and one each for the families of Chauvin and Floyd. 


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Lead prosecutor Jerry Blackwell spoke first, playing the widely circulated video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck before the jury and court. He stated that Floyd died from oxygen deprivation and did not die from an opioid overdose, pushing back against a narrative reinforced by Chauvin’s defense team. An independent autopsy found that his death was a homicide and that Floyd died of “asphyxiation from sustained pressure” when his neck and back were compressed. 

Regardless, defense attorney Eric Nelson said that Floyd’s autopsy report showed an enlarged heart and that a toxicology report showed fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system at the time of his death. Hypertension was also recorded, contributing to his death, Nelson asserted.

Additionally, Nelson said that the official autopsy saw no tell-tale signs of asphyxiation.

The defense’s argument also rests on Chauvin doing what he was trained to do as a police officer. Chauvin used a maximal restrained technique, a documented police maneuver, on Floyd, who was unarmed. 

Nelson also described the initial emergency call from an employee at Cup Foods, where Floyd had allegedly tried to purchase cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill, as saying that Floyd appeared intoxicated.

Aside from the prosecution, Ben Crump, representing the Floyd family, further disputed the defense’s account of events. He said that Floyd was in good health prior to his fatal encounter with police. 

“This murder case is not hard,” Crump said in a press conference outside the courthouse in Minneapolis. 

Floyd’s family received a $27 million settlement this month, the largest pretrial settlement in a civil rights wrongful death case in American history. Crump says the settlement is just part of the “full justice” the family is seeking in the criminal trial. 

"What we want to know is, will we see justice?" Crump told reporters. "The whole world is watching."


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Published on Mar 29, 2021