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'Believe Your Eyes': Prosecution Presents Closing Arguments In Derek Chauvin's Trial

Prosecutor Steve Schleicher gives closing arguments Monday in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
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Prosecutor Steve Schleicher gives closing arguments Monday in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Updated April 19, 2021 at 12:42 PM ET

The prosecution made its closing arguments Monday in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of murder in the death of George Floyd.

Chauvin, who held his knee on Floyd's neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds last Memorial Day, is facing counts of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

"George Floyd was surrounded by people he cared about and who cared about him" throughout his life, prosecutor Steve Schleicher told the jurors. But he died "facedown on the payment, right at 38th and Chicago" in Minneapolis.

The police response was for what? Schleicher kept asking. This was a call about a counterfeit $20 bill.

It may be hard for you to imagine any police officer doing this, Schleicher told the jury. Imagining an officer committing a crime may be the most difficult thing you have to set aside as you consider this case, he said.

Schleicher took pains to argue that convicting Chauvin should not be seen as being anti-police.

"The case is called the state of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin, not the state of Minnesota vs. the police," Schleicher said.

He said that "there's nothing worse for good police than a bad police" – someone who doesn't follow training.

If you commit a felony-level assault and the person dies while you're committing the assault, you're guilty of murder, Schleicher said, saying that's what happened in this case. "He did what he did on purpose, and it killed George Floyd."

Schleicher asked jurors if they really thought Floyd would have died that day — if not for the defendant's actions. Did he miraculously die of a drug overdose during this time? Was it the tailpipe? Maybe it was his enlarged heart?

"Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw," Schleicher said, stressing it was Chauvin's actions that killed Floyd.

Schleicher referred to testimony by pulmonologist and critical care physician Dr. Martin Tobin to refute the defense's argument that Floyd died from a cardiac event. Tobin testified Floyd died of a low level of oxygen that caused a brain injury and arrhythmia, which caused his heart to stop.

Floyd was not in perfect health, and he was under stress, Schleicher said. "But none of this caused George Floyd's heart to fail. It did not. His heart failed because the defendant's use of force, the 9:29, that deprived Mr. Floyd of the oxygen that he needed, that humans need, to live."

Schleicher pointed to doctors who had testified Floyd did not die of sudden cardiac arrythmia or a heart attack. And he pointed to testimony that Floyd had not died of a drug overdose: "His breathing didn't slow down, he didn't fall asleep, he didn't go into a coma," Schleicher said.

He described multiple moments on that day when he said Floyd's life could have been saved – if he had been allowed to stay on his side, rather than moved into the prone position, or if officers had administered medical aid, as they are trained to do.

"Make no mistake. [Chauvin's] actions were not policing. These actions were an assault," Schleicher said.

Schleicher noted the state does not have to prove that Chauvin intended to cause Floyd's death for him to be found guilty of second-degree murder.

After defense lawyers and prosecutors present closing arguments in the high-profile trial, the jurors will be sequestered as they deliberate. Judge Peter Cahill offered them some packing advice on Thursday: "Plan for long, hope for short."

On Thursday, Chauvin said he would not testify in his own defense.

NPR's Merrit Kennedy contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.

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