After three weeks of testimony that included dozens of witnesses and hours of video footage, the high-profile trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd has come to a close. The jury has returned guilty verdicts on all counts.
Chauvin faced charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter over kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes last May — in a gruesome scene captured on video that has since been viewed millions of times and ignited a wave of protests across the country and around the world.
Using expert witnesses from law enforcement and medicine, the prosecution argued that Chauvin’s restraint amounted to unreasonable, excessive force and that Floyd died of a resulting lack of oxygen. Defense attorney Eric Nelson said Chauvin followed his training, and questioned whether Floyd’s heart condition and drugs in his system played a role in his death, telling the jury that reasonable doubt was grounds for acquittal.
Viewed by many as a referendum on police accountability and America’s criminal justice system, the case comes amid heightened tensions following the recent police killings of Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb and Adam Toledo in Chicago.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill advised jury members last week, as to how long they would be sequestered, to “plan for long and hope for short.” They reached a verdict around midday Tuesday, the first full day of deliberations.
Here are some of the key moments in the trial. You can find our ongoing coverage here:
Witnesses describe painful scene, lasting impact
Individuals who were outside Cup Foods at various points during Floyd’s arrest last Memorial Day recalled the scene and its lasting impact on their lives, with many describing feelings of helplessness and guilt.
Christopher Martin, a former store clerk who accepted a counterfeit $20 bill from Floyd in a transaction that precipitated his death, said he immediately suspected the bill was fake and offered to pay for Floyd’s cigarettes himself. Floyd’s demeanor was friendly and approachable, he said, noting he also appeared to be high.
Martin went outside twice to Floyd’s parked SUV to ask him to come back inside and talk to his manager, at which point the manager told another store employee to call the police. Martin said in court he felt guilt and disbelief as he later watched Floyd being placed on a gurney.
“If I would have just not took the bill, this could have been avoided,” he said.
Darnella Frazier, the young woman who recorded the now-infamous video showing Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck, described the scene as that of “a man terrified, scared, begging for his life.”
“It seemed like he knew … it was over for him,” she said of Floyd, adding that the dozen or so bystanders watching from the sidewalk all seemed to agree what they were seeing was not right. Many yelled out to police to stop hurting Floyd and check his pulse, she recalled.
Frazier said under further questioning that she has mourned Floyd’s death in the weeks and months since, and worried that her male relatives, who are Black, could be similarly mistreated by police.
Nelson, the defense attorney, noted that the video went viral and asked, “It changed your life?” “It has,” Frazier replied.
In emotional testimony, several other witnesses described feeling powerless as Chauvin continued to restrain Floyd, even as they called on Chauvin to stop and for officers to render medical assistance. The three other officers at the scene have since been fired and face charges of aiding and abetting murder.
Genevieve Hansen, a firefighter and emergency medical technician, said she was on an off-duty walk when she came upon the scene. She identified herself as a first responder and demanded that officers check Floyd’s pulse, as heard on video played in court.
Hansen said the officers blocked her from providing medical care, and she described feeling “totally distressed.” She said her voice grew louder and her tone angrier as the minutes passed.
“Because I was desperate to help … because there was a man being killed and … had I had access to a call similar to that, I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities,” she said. “And this human was denied that.”
Hansen called 911 moments after Floyd was loaded into an ambulance to report what she had seen. Another bystander, Donald Williams, did the same, telling the court he “felt the need to call the police on the police” because he believed he had witnessed a murder.
As video played in court of Floyd calling for his mom and saying he couldn’t breathe, Charles McMillian broke down and explained he had felt “helpless.” He had previously encouraged Floyd to cooperate with officers and get in their car, telling the court he was trying to help make the situation easier.
Despite cries from McMillian and others that Floyd couldn’t breathe, he said the officers did not provide medical attention at any point, and that Chauvin did not lift his knee until the ambulance arrived.
“When the paramedics arrived for Mr. Floyd, I knew then in my mind and in my instinct, it was over for Mr. Floyd. That he was dead,” McMillian said.
Floyd remembered by his loved ones
Floyd was a “mama’s boy” who was hit particularly hard by his mother’s death in 2018, both said.
Philonise Floyd remembered his older brother as a “leader in our household” who always helped his siblings get ready for school in the mornings, an excellent athlete who played college basketball and football, and a beloved community figure who “just knew how to make people feel better.”
Ross spoke fondly about her relationship with Floyd, tearfully recalling how they met in August 2017: She had been waiting for her son’s father in the lobby of the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light shelter in Minneapolis when a deep voice asked her if she was OK. She replied she was not, at which point Floyd — who was working there as a security guard at the time — asked, “Well, can I pray with you?”
The two saw each other nearly every day for the next three years, Ross said, and especially loved to go for walks and eat at restaurants.
“It was fun, it was an adventure, always, with him,” she said.
Ross described Floyd as a “very active” person who loved sports and lifted weights daily. She said he lost his job as a security guard at a nightclub and bistro due to the coronavirus pandemic, and had been living in an apartment with two roommates at the time of his death.
Ross also shared that the two struggled with opioid addiction and that drug use was a part of their relationship.
They both had gotten prescriptions for chronic pain — in Floyd’s case, for his back. Ross said the two quit using drugs for a “long period” in early 2020, but she suspected he had started using opioids again by that May.
Questions about Floyd’s health and substance use have been central to the trial.
While the Hennepin County medical examiner ruled Floyd’s death a homicide — saying his heart and lungs stopped functioning “while being restrained” by police — he also noted other “significant conditions,” including heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use.
Medical experts examine cause of death
Both sides called on medical experts to make their case about the cause of Floyd’s death, with the prosecution arguing he died because of Chauvin’s restraint and the defense maintaining other factors were involved.
Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner, discussed the autopsy report he had completed, which attributes Floyd’s death to “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”
Baker explained Floyd had hypertensive heart disease, “which means that his heart weighed more than it should.”
“So he has a heart that already needs more oxygen than a normal heart, by virtue of its size,” Baker said. “And it’s limited in its ability to step up to provide more oxygen when there’s demand, because of the narrowing of his coronary arteries.”
He described the restraint and neck compression as “just more than Mr. Floyd could take, by virtue of those heart conditions.”
Baker acknowledged that fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in Floyd’s system but described them as factors in the death rather than direct causes.
“Mr. Floyd’s use of fentanyl did not cause the subdual or neck restraint; his heart disease did not cause the subdual or the neck restraint,” Baker said.
His testimony countered the argument made by the defense, which blamed Floyd’s death on his heart condition or a possible drug overdose.
Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, had previously theorized that Floyd put drugs in his mouth to conceal them when the police approached, citing officer-worn body camera footage in which Floyd appeared to say, “I ate too many drugs.” In fact, upon listening to a longer version of the clip, a special agent with Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said he believed Floyd was really saying, “I ain’t do no drugs.”
Pulmonary specialist Dr. Martin Tobin testified for the prosecution that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen, rather than preexisting health conditions or fentanyl use. He noted Floyd’s normal breathing rate and said it would have been much slower had he been under the effects of fentanyl.
The lack of oxygen caused by Chauvin’s restraint caused brain damage within five minutes, Tobin said.
“A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died,” he added.
A medical witness later testifying for the defense disputed those conclusions. Dr. David Fowler, a retired forensic pathologist and former chief medical examiner for the state of Maryland, said he believed the manner of Floyd’s death should be classified as “undetermined.”
He said Floyd had suffered a sudden cardiac event and suggested a number of contributing factors, including heart disease, drug use and potential exposure to carbon monoxide from vehicle exhaust.
“There are multiple entities all acting together and adding to each other, and taking away from a different part, of the ability to get oxygen to his heart,” Fowler testified. “And so at some point the heart exhausted its reserves of metabolic supply and went into an arrhythmia and then stopped pumping blood effectively.”
Under cross-examination, however, Fowler testified that while Floyd appeared to lose consciousness after the cardiac arrest — some four to five minutes into the restraint — immediate medical attention might have revived him.
Police experts on use of force
Notably, several current and former members of the Minneapolis Police Department took to the stand to testify against one of their own.
Minneapolis police Chief Medaria Arradondo said he believed Chauvin violated department policies on de-escalation, use of force and rendering aid, and noted that video footage did not show Floyd was aggressive or resisting, either actively or passively.
“There is an initial reasonableness in trying to get him under control in the first few seconds,” Arradondo said, “but once there was no longer any resistance, and clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless, 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 is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.”
Testifying for the prosecution, officers who have both led and received departmental training described Chauvin’s use of force as excessive.
The officer with the most seniority in the department, Lt. Richard Zimmerman, said he had never been trained to put his knee on someone’s neck, adding that doing so could kill someone.
Inspector Katie Blackwell, who commands the Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct and previously ran the department’s police training, was among those who said that Chauvin’s technique was not one officers are taught.
Their instruction involves using one or two arms to do a neck restraint, Blackwell said, adding of Chauvin’s maneuver, “I don’t know what kind of improvised position that is.” She added that officers are taught to put a person on their side as soon as the situation is under control.
Testimony on both sides also came from use-of-force experts outside the department.
Los Angeles police Sgt. Jody Stiger, appearing as a paid expert, told the court he believed the force was excessive. He cited the “objective reasonableness” legal standard for the use of force and said he had weighed the officers’ actions against the severity of the crime and the suspect’s behavior.
Testifying for the defense, former police officer Barry Brodd countered that the actions of Chauvin and the officers were justified.
Brodd said he believed Chauvin was “acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement.”
He also said holding Floyd facedown on the ground was the safest position for the officers and the suspect, adding that holding a person in that position is “a control technique” and not a use of force.
But under questioning by the prosecution, Brodd appeared to walk back several points.
When presented with a photo of Floyd’s face contorted under Chauvin’s restraint, Brodd conceded it could be considered a use of force. When pressed, he contradicted earlier comments to admit he had long known about the dangers of positional asphyxia when a person is restrained in the prone position, and said that can be avoided by laying the person on their side in a fetal position.
NPR has reported on one particularly memorable exchange between Brodd and prosecutor Steve Schleicher:
When shown a different image of Floyd facedown with both his hands in cuffs behind his back, with Chauvin and the others on the full length of his body, Brodd said a compliant person would have their hands in the small of their back rather than “moving around” and could have been “resting comfortably.” Instead, he said, Floyd continued to resist arrest.
“Did you say resting comfortably?” Schleicher asked incredulously.
“Or laying comfortably,” Brodd said.
“So attempting to breathe while restrained is being slightly noncompliant?”
“No,” Brodd said.
Chauvin declines to testify; judge threatens to call mistrial
Thursday, the final day of testimony, saw Chauvin invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify in his defense.
It also saw Cahill forbid prosecutors from introducing additional evidence related to carbon monoxide levels in Floyd’s blood.
Nelson, the defense attorney, said he told the prosecution in a February memo that he would raise the subject of carbon monoxide. Baker, the medical examiner, found that the county had those records but had not previously submitted them along with Floyd’s lab results.
The judge said he would not allow the prosecution to discuss those test results in rebuttal testimony at the end of the trial.
“If he even hints that there are test results that the jury has not heard about, it’s going to be a mistrial,” he said of Tobin, who had returned to provide further context about Floyd’s oxygen levels.
In closing arguments delivered Monday, lawyers on both sides left jurors with competing calls to action.
Prosecutor Schleicher said Chauvin directly caused Floyd’s death and urged the jury to “use your common sense.”
“Believe your eyes,” he said. “What you saw, you saw.”
Nelson, the defense attorney, began his closing argument by emphasizing the presumption of innocence and the state’s burden of proving Chauvin’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. He sought to persuade jurors that the prosecution had failed to meet this burden.
“Compare the evidence against itself. Test it, challenge it,” Nelson said, adding that if the state is “missing any one single element, it is a not guilty verdict.”
The jury was sequestered for deliberations beginning Monday.