Derek Chauvin Trial: Key Takeaways From the First Day
The prosecution’s opening remarks focused on nine minutes and 29 seconds of bystander video.,
Takeaways from the first day of the Derek Chauvin trial.
March 29, 2021, 6:07 p.m. ET
By Will Wright
One of the most closely watched court cases in decades got underway on Monday as the murder trial began for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is being charged with murder in the death of George Floyd.
A long day in court began with the prosecution’s opening remarks, focusing the jury’s attention on the bystander video of Mr. Floyd’s death — all nine minutes and 29 seconds of it — and ended with the testimony of a mixed martial arts fighter who was on the scene and said he believed Mr. Chauvin was killing Mr. Floyd. In between, the defense laid out its theory of the case, vowing to prove over the course of the trial that Mr. Floyd died of a drug overdose and heart condition.
Here’s what happened.
The trial began with opening statements from both sides, laying the groundwork for both teams as they make their case to the jury pool. Prosecuting attorney Jerry W. Blackwell aimed to focus the jurors’ attention on the famous video of Mr. Floyd’s arrest, which sparked a wave of protests across the country this summer. The video, taken by a bystander, showed Mr. Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, where he remained for about 9 minutes and 30 seconds. “You can believe your eyes, that it’s homicide — it’s murder,” Mr. Blackwell said, adding that the trial was “about Derek Chauvin,” not the police in general.
Defense attorneys for Mr. Chauvin laid out their strategy as well — one that will ask jurors to consider heaps of evidence outside of the video itself. Eric Nelson, the lawyer for Mr. Chauvin, said there are more than 50,000 items in evidence and told jurors that the case “is clearly more than about 9 minutes and 29 seconds.”
The state also made clear another point: that Mr. Floyd’s exact cause of death will prove to be one of the most crucial points of this trial. In its opening statement, the prosecution (not the defense, as previously reported) said it would call seven medical experts, in addition to the Hennepin County medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, who performed the only autopsy on Mr. Floyd and classified it as a homicide.
Witnesses, including a cashier at a gas station across the street who filmed the encounter and a 911 dispatcher, also described their actions during the time that Mr. Floyd was arrested. “My instincts were telling me that something’s wrong,” said Jena Scurry, the 911 dispatcher, who alerted a supervising sergeant about what was happening. But she was circumspect about what exactly she thought was wrong; she said she thought officers may have needed reinforcements.
Outside the courthouse, the amount of public interest in the trial was laid bare, as protesters gathered and a helicopter whirled overhead. Temporary concrete and metal barricades encircled some of the government buildings downtown, while national guard members and state police officers stood by. Ben Crump, a lawyer for Mr. Floyd’s family, told supporters on Monday that “the whole world is watching.”