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Closing Arguments Delivered In Derek Chauvin's Murder Trial


The murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin is now in the hands of the jury. For three weeks, lawyers have argued over whether Chauvin is responsible for the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis almost 11 months ago. The attorneys delivered their closing arguments today, and now the jurors are deliberating. NPR's Adrian Florido has been covering the trial and joins us from Minneapolis.

Hi, Adrian.


SHAPIRO: Tell us about what happened in court today.

FLORIDO: Well, we heard two completely opposing views of what happened last May 25, when Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck until he died. The prosecution said it was a case of a police officer who betrayed his badge, violated policy and murdered Floyd by asphyxiation. The defense said, no, the state did not prove its case, that Derek Chauvin did what any reasonable officer would have done to get a struggling suspect under control, and that the state also didn't prove that Floyd died of asphyxiation.

SHAPIRO: Let's go more deeply into each side's arguments. What did the prosecution say?

FLORIDO: Well, the prosecution's argument was delivered by Steve Schleicher, a lawyer who started by describing what George Floyd went through as police officers held him down and Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck.


STEVE SCHLEICHER: During this time, George Floyd struggled, desperate to breathe, to make enough room in his chest to breathe. But the force was too much. He was trapped. He was trapped with the unyielding pavement underneath him, as unyielding as the man who held him down.

FLORIDO: And from there, Ari, he moved into an almost two-hour review of the evidence and why the jury should convict Chauvin of murder and manslaughter.

SHAPIRO: And what were some of the key points in that evidence?

FLORIDO: Well, he reminded jurors of the testimony from medical experts, who all said Floyd died because of a lack of oxygen, not heart disease, not a drug overdose. He also recapped testimony from police trainers, the Minneapolis police chief, who all testified against Chauvin. And he condemned Derek Chauvin as a prideful man whose ego kept him from getting off of George Floyd's neck even as bystanders were begging him to.


SCHLEICHER: How can you justify the continued force on this man when he has no pulse, no pulse - continued the restraint, continued grinding and twisting and pushing him down and crushing the very life out of him? It wasn't too late. He could have rolled him over, performed CPR. But no, he continued.

FLORIDO: And he ended with a plea for the jury to convict on the three counts against Chauvin, saying this.


SCHLEICHER: This wasn't policing. This was murder. The defendant is guilty of all three counts - all of them. And there's no excuse.

SHAPIRO: And then came the defense's closing argument. What did attorney Eric Nelson say?

FLORIDO: Well, he was very insistent that Derek Chauvin acted reasonably because of how hard George Floyd had struggled during his arrest. And he also told the jury that focusing only on the nine or so minutes that Chauvin stayed on top of Floyd disregarded the totality of circumstances, including the fact that three officers had been unable to get Floyd under control.


ERIC NELSON: A reasonable police officer would, in fact, take into consideration the previous 16 minutes and 59 seconds - their experience with the subject, the struggle that they had, the comparison of the words to actions. It all comes into play. Why? - because human behavior is unpredictable. Human behavior is unpredictable. And nobody knows it better than a police officer.

FLORIDO: Nelson also spent a lot of time arguing that there were other factors in Floyd's death, including his enlarged heart, his heart disease and his drug use.


NELSON: If a person has drugs in their system and that drug causes an overdose in the context of the police restraint, it's not the natural consequence of the restraint. It's the natural consequence of the deceased's actions.

SHAPIRO: And then, Adrian, I understand prosecutors had the final word today.

FLORIDO: That's right. Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell came back with a rebuttal point by point and ended like this.


JERRY BLACKWELL: You were told, for example, that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big. You heard that testimony. And now having seen all the evidence, having heard all the evidence, you know the truth. And the truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin's heart was too small.

FLORIDO: And after that, the case went to the jury.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Adrian Florido in Minneapolis, thank you.

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

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