The prosecution and defense rested their cases Thursday morning in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin over the death of George Floyd, bringing the country to the precipice of a verdict that—heightened by outrage over two other recent police killings—is expected to send shockwaves no matter the outcome.
After two weeks of testimony from 38 witnesses called by the prosecution, Chauvin’s defense attorney Eric Nelson concluded a roughly three-day presentation to jurors involving seven witnesses that attempted to poke holes in the state’s argument that Chauvin’s actions caused Floyd’s death.
Then, both sides will have their final shot at appealing to jurors in closing argument before deliberations begin on Monday, a process that could take hours, days or weeks.
Whether what Chauvin’s defense has done will be enough to persuade the jury is a close call, says Minnesota defense attorney Mike Brandt, as while the state put forward a strong case, the defense “doesn’t have to prove anything,” just cast reasonable doubt, Brandt emphasizes.
Meanwhile, University of Minnesota law professor David Schultz, who is teaching a class on the trial, says he would be “totally stunned” to see Chauvin acquitted on the three murder and manslaughter charges based on evidence he described as “pretty overwhelming.”
However, Schultz said he believes a hung jury, (in which jurors can’t come to agreement on one or more of the charges) to be the most likely outcome, at which point the judge may declare a mistrial.
“Nobody is going to be happy at the end of this case,” said Justin Hansford, a Howard University Law School professor and Black Lives Matter activist who runs the university’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center. “If Chauvin gets off, it’s going to be like a Rodney King situation,” Hansford said, referencing the 1992 riots in Los Angeles that followed a jury’s decision to acquit the officers who brutally beat King. “If he’s convicted, the prosecution’s case is that he’s a bad apple. Neither the defense nor the prosecution’s narrative is going to make the protesters happy.”
The trial’s conclusion comes amid a resurgence of unrest following a police killing just 10 miles away from where Chauvin’s trial is taking place. Daunte Wright, an unarmed 20-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by a Brooklyn Center Police officer during a traffic stop Sunday afternoon. The suburban city has been flooded with protesters every night since, with civil rights leaders gathering to call for justice and highlighting connections between the two cases. Yet another police killing case sparked outrage on Thursday as the city of Chicago released police body camera footage of the March 29 shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo. While police originally claimed a Chicago Police officer shot the boy after an “armed confrontation,” the video appeared to show Toledo without a weapon and his hands in the air at the moment he was fatally shot. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded with Chicagoans to remain calm after viewing the video at a Thursday news conference.
What To Watch For
Minneapolis—already on high alert since the start of the trial on May 29—is continuing to beef up security ahead of the verdict with a plan that involves nine state and local agencies. Other cities, including New York and Washington, D.C., are also preparing for protests over the trial’s outcome.