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Jurors Have The Case In Chauvin Trial; Prosecutors Ended With Call For Common Sense

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell gives the state's rebuttal Monday during closing arguments to the jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Court TV/Pool via AP
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell gives the state's rebuttal Monday during closing arguments to the jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Updated April 19, 2021 at 5:40 PM ET

The prosecution and defense, in closing arguments, accused each other of misleading the jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell had the last word, telling jurors, "the largest departure from the truth" was that "Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big."

"And now having seen all the evidence and having heard on 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," he said.

Blackwell's methodical dissection of the defense arguments was presumably the last time the jury would hear from the lawyers in the murder trial before they reach a verdict.

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

Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, had argued that drug use and an enlarged heart were key to Floyd's death, while the prosecutors said they were incidental and only Chauvin's actions were at issue.

Nelson argued that Chauvin acted like a reasonable police officer would. The prosecution repeatedly said that Chauvin acted counter to his training, and that convicting him should not be seen as anti-police.

Prosecuting attorney Blackwell told jurors that they've been hearing from another witness all along and that witness would continue to be alongside them as they deliberate.

"That witness is common sense," Blackwell said, adding, "Common sense will continue talking with you all the while."

After hours and hours of listening to Chauvin's defense, Blackwell said the duty before them "really isn't that complicated in what it is you have to decide with respect to excessive use of force and the issue of causation."

"It's so simple," he said, "that a child could understand it."

Blackwell then reminded the jury of the 9-year-old witness who was present the day Floyd was killed and who was among the first to testify in the three-week-long trial.

"Get off of him," the child was heard saying in one of the bystander videos shown in court.

Blackwell insisted, if a child could grasp that Chauvin was applying an excessive use of force on Floyd's body, then the jurors should reach the same conclusion.

"Why is it necessary to continue applying deadly restraint to a man who is defenseless, who is handcuffed, who is not resisting, who is not breathing, who doesn't have a pulse?" he asked the jury.

Echoing prosecutor Steven Schleicher's words from earlier in the day, Blackwell said: "You can believe your eyes, ladies and gentlemen. It was what you thought it was. It was what you saw. It was homicide."

Defense attorney Nelson, he said, spent a significant amount of time asking jurors to consider all of the evidence before a "reasonable officer."

But Blackwell tried to dispel the notion that a reasonable officer is somehow exempt from responding in the same way a regular person is expected to respond in any given situation.

The words "reasonable officer," Blackwell said, "are not a magic words that you simply apply to Mr. Chauvin and then he becomes a reasonable officer because you applied those words."

"Reasonable is as reasonable does," Blackwell said.

He also told jurors that they "didn't get the whole truth," from Nelson, whom he accused of omitting key facts to tell the jury a "story."

"Notice how when you had the discussion about reasonable officer and Mr. Chauvin, the whole narrative cut off before we got to the point that Mr. Floyd was not moving, that he was not conscious, that he didn't have a pulse, and that Mr. Chauvin was still on top of him even when the EMTs showed up and he still didn't get off of him."

He also accused Nelson of misleading the jury about the law and the jurors' instructions.

Nelson, Blackwell said, told jurors that the state is responsible for showing that no other factors, outside of Chauvin's actions, played a role in Floyd's death. That would include Floyd's health and history of drug use.

"That's not true," Blackwell said.

"What we need to show is that the defendant's actions were a substantial causal factor in his death. It doesn't have to be the only causal factor, it doesn't have to be the biggest substantial factor. It just has to be one of them."

Next Blackwell moved on to taking apart the defense argument that the bystanders and the risk they allegedly posed distracted Chauvin from properly caring for Floyd in the final moments of his life.

"At all relevant times here, there were five grown men police officers" at the scene, Blackwell noted. Each had access to a radio to call for additional assistance, but he said, "You didn't hear any evidence about any call for backup at all."

Showing an image of Chauvin, both of his hands in his pockets and kneeling on Floyd, Blackwell said the jury will ultimately decide whether the officer was truly fearful in the moment or not.

"He had the bullets, the guns, the Mace that he threatened the bystanders with. He had backup. He had the badge. He had all of it. And what was there to be afraid of, here particularly, at this scene?"

Blackwell then listed the members of the group horrified and watching the slow-motion killing. "There were three high school juniors there, and a second-grader who was going to the store to get candy. There was a high school senior who was taking her cousin to the store. A first responder on the scene and there was Donald Williams, who wanted nothing more than to try to intervene to try to save Mr. Floyd's life."

"So this wasn't the face of fear," Blackwell said, referring to Chauvin. "You've seen what the face of fear and worry look like that day at that time." Then he flashed a still image of a frightened Floyd behind the wheel of the SUV he was driving that day. The barrel of a gun looms in the foreground as Floyd's left hand is raised in the air.

The jury began deliberating the case in sequestration. Judge Peter Cahill reminded jurors to examine their own biases before arriving at a verdict and urged them to "listen to one another."

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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.
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.