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Prosecutors Will Continue To Build A Case Against Derek Chauvin

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Eight minutes and 46 seconds - that's the amount of time that former police officer Derek Chauvin was believed to have held his knee on George Floyd's neck. Eight-forty-six became part of a rallying cry in protests around the world. It appeared on signs. People chanted it. They held vigils and stayed quiet for eight minutes and 46 seconds to mark Floyd's death. In Day 1 of Derek Chauvin's trial, prosecutors said Chauvin actually held his knee on Floyd for nearly 9 1/2 minutes. There are two central questions in this murder trial - what exactly killed George Floyd, and did Officer Chauvin use excessive force? We're joined now by Charles Coleman Jr. He's a civil rights lawyer and former prosecutor. He joins us on the line from Brooklyn. Thanks so much for being here.

CHARLES COLEMAN JR: Good morning, Rachel. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: The prosecuting attorney, Jerry Blackwell, showed the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, which is 43 seconds longer than initially reported. Yesterday, Blackwell told jurors that the video is proof Chauvin used excessive force. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JERRY BLACKWELL: You can believe your eyes that it's a homicide. It's murder.

MARTIN: How far do you think the video of Lloyd's arrest goes to proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin killed Floyd?

COLEMAN: Well, I think just from a human sensibility standpoint, the video itself is so significant and so powerful that it can't help but to have a huge impression on the jury. I mean, you know, this is a video which struck at the core of our humanity in such a way that, I mean, it prompted protests and reaction throughout the world. And so when you showed that video in court, what you're going to see and what you did see was something that, I think, you can't ignore.

So regardless of what the law says from the judge and regardless of what the facts are found to be by the jury, there can be very little argument that that video itself is going to definitely have a huge impression on this trial. The defense knew that going in. The prosecution knew that, of course. And that's going to be something that they hammer home to try to keep this as simple and straightforward for the jury as possible.

MARTIN: The defense, for its part, is arguing that Chauvin and the other officers were distracted by the crowd that was growing there after Floyd was arrested and then pinned to the ground. Let's play a little bit of Chauvin's defense attorney, Eric Nelson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC NELSON: They're screaming at them, causing the officers to divert their attention from the care of Mr. Floyd to the threat that was growing in front of them.

MARTIN: Can you speak to the strategy there? This reveals - I mean, are they trying to prove George Floyd's death was involuntary, not premeditated?

COLEMAN: Well, what they're trying to do right there is basically put the jury in the mindset of the police officers who were responsible for responding to that dispatch call. What they're trying to do is humanize them in such a way that basically says that this was a distraction issue. George Ford was somebody who died because of reasons other than a knee being on his neck. They're trying to create reasonable doubt. And they're basically not left with a bunch to work with, so it's not surprising to me to see them throw these other things in the mix. I mean, they are basically going to try to argue that this was not improper police procedure.

And then I'm sure you will see at some point the defense make an argument that, oh, well, you know, Derek Chauvin wasn't perfect, but he wasn't, you know, using excessive force. And I think the issue of the officers being distracted by the crowd or that argument is one that comes into the whole, well, they're not perfect. This is something that is essentially, you know, a function of human error. I don't know how well that is going to play with the jury. But I do know that all of these different arguments that they are trying to advance are essentially a function of just any method that they can use to try and create reasonable doubt in the mind of those jurors.

MARTIN: I mean, another way they're going to do that is to talk about the drugs that were found in George Floyd's system - traces of fentanyl and recent methamphetamine use. Is that going to be complicated for the prosecution?

COLEMAN: There may be some complications there. I mean, I think that the prosecution is likely going to have to call a medical expert in terms of being able to establish clearly what the cause of death was. I think, you know, to the extent that the defense is able to, they're going to try to make an argument that perhaps were those drugs or traces of those drugs not in Mr. Floyd's system, that, you know, he may have been able to withstand the pressure that was being placed on his neck. Or perhaps he would not have been as resistant, even though there's now been testimony that he was not resisting. And human eyes can see from watching the video that he was unable to resist after a point. But in any event, it is going to be something that the defense has to...

MARTIN: Yeah.

COLEMAN: ...Bring up, and the prosecution has to figure out how they respond to.

MARTIN: I want to play a bit from one of the witnesses yesterday. This was a 911 dispatcher. Her name is Jena Scurry. She's describing watching Floyd's arrest live from a police surveillance camera. And she said what she saw concerned her enough that she called Derek Chauvin's boss, the sergeant in charge of the officers. Let's listen to a bit of her call.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENA SCURRY: You can call me a snitch if you want to. But we have the cameras up for 320's call. Oh, did they already put him in the - they must have already started moving him. And...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Inaudible).

SCURRY: Three-twenty over at Cup Foods.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: OK.

SCURRY: I don't know if they had to use force or not. They got something out of the back of the squad, and all of them sat on this man.

MARTIN: Just briefly, what conclusion did the prosecution want the jury to draw from that?

COLEMAN: That this was unusual, that this was not something that was normal. That even for a dispatch officer or a dispatch representative, that this was not something that they were used to seeing. And it was so bad and egregious that they wanted to actually phone it in because something about this did not feel normal or right.

MARTIN: Charles Coleman Jr., civil rights lawyer, thank you for your perspective.

COLEMAN: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.