The defense for Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis ex-police officer charged with murdering George Floyd after kneeling on his neck for nine minutes in May, is arguing that Floyd didn’t die from Chauvin kneeling on his neck.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson and prosecuting attorney Jerry Blackwell shared opening remarks during the trial Monday, where Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Nelson alleged that the unarmed Floyd, whose death sparked national outrage last summer, died of cardiac arrhythmia, hypertension, and coronary disease. He claimed toxicology tests revealed fentanyl and methamphetamine in Floyd’s system, which along with adrenaline “all acted to further compromise an already compromised heart.”
He also insisted that bystanders who begged Chauvin to get off Floyd were trying to “divert” his “attention from the care of Mr. Floyd.”
“Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over his 19-year career,” Nelson said. “The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary part of policing.”
Blackwell said during the nationally televised trial that it was clear Floyd’s death was a homicide, and that Floyd died of oxygen deprivation. Prosecutors played the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd during their opening statements.
“You’ll be able to hear his voice get deeper and heavier his words further apart, his respiration is more shallow,” Blackwell said of the video. “You’ll see him when he goes unconscious, and you’ll be able to see the uncontrollable shaking he’s doing when he’s not breathing anymore.”
He said that experts in policing—such as Lieutenant Johnny Mercil, the Minneapolis Police Department’s use of force training coordinator—will testify regarding Chauvin’s actions, and why “no training would suggest that kneeling on somebody’s neck, as Mr. Chauvin was doing, was proper.” Blackwell also told the jury that Floyd did not die an “instant” death from a heart condition or overdose.
“He died one breath at a time, over an extended period of time,” Blackwell said. “It does not at all look like the way that one dies from a fatal arrhythmia. You will also learn, ladies and gentlemen, that George Floyd struggled with addiction. He struggled with it. You will learn that he did not die from a drug overdose, he did not die from an opioid overdose. Why? Because you’ll be able to look at the video footage and you see it looks absolutely nothing like a person who would die from an opioid overdose.”
Before the trial began, members of Floyd’s family, Rev. Al Sharpton, and attorney Benjamin Crump took a knee outside of the Hennepin County Courthouse for eight minutes and 46 seconds, as Sharpton marked each minute out loud.
Sharpton said he wanted those watching to think about why Chauvin didn’t remove his knee from Floyd during that amount of time.