Opening arguments started Monday in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, accused of pinning down a Black man, George Floyd, on a city street in an incident last year that triggered protests around the world against police abuse of minorities.
A 12-member jury and three alternates are hearing the case, with testimony in the high-profile trial possibly lasting a month.
The 45-year-old Chauvin, who is white, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges in the death of Floyd, who was 46. If convicted, Chauvin could face years in prison.
Chauvin says he was following police training in arresting Floyd as he pinned him to a city street by keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. A nearby shopkeeper had accused Floyd of passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump and other supporters knelt on a sidewalk outside the courthouse for the same length of time before the trial started.
“What kind of hate would you have to keep pressure on for that length of time?” the civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said. “It became deliberate and intentional.”
Crump said, “America, this is the moment to show the rest of the world...there is liberty and justice for all.”
Floyd died in custody after gasping that he could not breathe. Aside from claiming his client was following police training in the way the arrest was carried out, Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, is expected to argue that Floyd died from underlying medical conditions, not because Chauvin was holding him down on the street.
In a victory for the defense, the judge overseeing the trial said Nelson could tell the jury about a 2019 encounter between Floyd and Minneapolis police during which Floyd allegedly exhibited behavior like his actions in the incident in which he died.
Nelson has said the 2019 incident is central to his argument that Floyd’s health issues and the level of drugs in his system killed him, not Chauvin pinning him down on May 25, 2020.
Prosecutors opposed admission of a two-minute video of the 2019 incident, contending that it was an attempt to tarnish Floyd’s character in the minds of the jurors.
Street protests of police treatment of minorities, some of which turned violent, erupted in numerous U.S. cities and elsewhere throughout the world in the weeks after Floyd’s death.
Over the last three weeks, the jury was picked to try the case. The panel, including the three alternates, is racially diverse.
It includes six white women, three white men, three Black men, one Black woman and two multiracial women, according to court records.
The city of Minneapolis agreed recently to pay Floyd’s relatives $27 million in damages to settle their claims of abuse in the case. But the trial was not delayed because of the settlement.