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Defense Presents Closing Arguments In Derek Chauvin Trial

Defense attorney Eric Nelson gives his closing arguments Monday in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson gives his closing arguments Monday in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin.

Updated April 19, 2021 at 2:17 PM ET

The defense lawyer of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is making closing arguments in the murder trial of George Floyd.

Chauvin is facing counts of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Defense lawyer Eric Nelson began his closing arguments by discussing the presumption of innocence and the state's burden of proving Chauvin's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Compare the evidence against itself. Test it, challenge it," Nelson said. Start from the point of the presumption of innocence and see how far the state can get, he suggested to the jury — and he argued that the state has failed to meet its burden.

If the state is "missing any one single element, it is a not guilty verdict," Nelson said.

Prosecutors have stated that Chauvin's use of force was not reasonable and contrary to his police training. Nelson's arguments focused how "a reasonable police officer" would have handled the incident, to make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably.

He pointed to the dispatch report, with its changes in codes and information over the course of a few minutes. It shows "how quickly a situation can change from second to second, minute to minute," Nelson said. ""The situation is dynamic and it's fluid."

A reasonable officer would conclude that the amount of force being used by the two other officers was insufficient to overpower Floyd's resistance to get into the car, Nelson said, and decide that additional force was necessary.

Nelson showed different officers' bodycam footage to illustrate the officers' views of the incident. Chauvin and two other officers struggled with Floyd for a little over a minute.

"A reasonable officer would understand this situation. That Mr. Floyd was able to overcome the efforts of three police officers while handcuffed, with his legs and his body strength," Nelson said.

Nelson showed footage from a city camera mounted on the corner that the 911 dispatcher could see, showing officers struggling to force Floyd into the squad car.

None of the use of force experts said anything that had happened up to the moment that Floyd was put on the ground was contrary to policy training and tactics, or was unreasonable, Nelson said.

The defense attorney objected to the state's focus on the 9 minutes and 29 seconds that Chauvin was on top of Floyd.

"It's not the proper analysis," says Nelson. "Because the 9 minutes and 29 seconds ignores the previous 16 minutes and 59 seconds [of the police interaction with Floyd]. It completely disregards it. It says in that moment, at that point, nothing else that happened before should be taken into consideration by a reasonable police officer. It tries to reframe the issue of what a reasonable police officer would do."

"A reasonable police officer would in fact take into consideration the previous 16 minutes and 59 seconds," Nelson said.

The prosecution has already laid out its closing arguments to the jury, saying that Chauvin directly caused the death of Floyd last Memorial Day after kneeling on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

Floyd was not in perfect health, and he was under stress, prosecutor Steve Schleicher told the court earlier on Monday.

"But none of this caused George Floyd's heart to fail. It did not," the prosecutor said. "His heart failed because the defendant's use of force, the 9:29, that deprived Mr. Floyd of the oxygen that he needed, that humans need, to live."

NPR's Merrit Kennedy contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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.