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Out of sight but now center stage, jurors weigh Chauvin’s fate

In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and defendant, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listen to Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill read instructions to the jury before closing arguments, Monday, April 19, 2021, in the trial of Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The jurors who sat off-camera through three weeks of draining testimony in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial in George Floyd’s death were in the spotlight Tuesday, still out of sight but now in control of verdicts awaited by a skittish city.

The jury of six white people and six people who are Black or multiracial resumed deliberations in the morning.

Anonymous by order of the judge and sequestered now until they reach a verdict, they spent just a few hours on their task Monday after the day was mostly consumed by closing arguments in which prosecutors argued that Chauvin squeezed the life out of Floyd last May in a way that even a child knew was wrong.

The defense contended that the now-fired white officer acted reasonably and that the 46-year-old Floyd died of a heart condition and illegal drug use.

In Washington, meanwhile, President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he is “praying the verdict is the right verdict” and that he believes the case to be “overwhelming.” He also said he called Floyd’s family on Monday and “can only imagine the pressure and anxiety they’re feeling.”

The president has repeatedly denounced Floyd’s death but had previously stopped short of weighing in on the trial itself.

Chauvin, 45, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, all of which require the jury to conclude that his actions were a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death and that his use of force was unreasonable.

The most serious charge carries up to 40 years in prison.

“Use your common sense. Believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher said in closing arguments at the widely televised trial, referring to the bystander video of Floyd pinned to the pavement with Chauvin’s knee on or close to his neck for up to 9 minutes, 29 seconds, as onlookers yelled at the officer to get off.

Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson countered by arguing that Chauvin did what any reasonable police officer would have done after finding himself in a “dynamic” and “fluid” situation involving a large man struggling with three officers.

With the case drawing to a close, some stores were boarded up in Minneapolis. The courthouse was ringed with concrete barriers and razor wire, and National Guard troops were on patrol. Floyd’s death set off protests last spring in the city and across the U.S. that sometimes turned violent.

The city has also been on edge in recent days over the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, in a nearby suburb on April 11.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell had the final word Monday, offering the state’s rebuttal argument. The prosecutor, who is Black, said the questions about the use of force and cause of death are “so simple that a child can understand it.”

“In fact, a child did understand it, when the 9-year-old girl said, ‘Get off of him,’” Blackwell said, referring to a young witness who objected to what she saw. “That’s how simple it was. `Get off of him.’ Common sense.”

Under the law, police have certain latitude to use force, and their actions are supposed to be judged according to what a “reasonable officer” in the same situation would have done.

Nelson noted that officers who first went to the corner store where Floyd allegedly passed a counterfeit $20 bill were struggling with Floyd when Chauvin arrived as backup. The defense attorney also pointed out that the first two officers on the scene were rookies and that police had been told that Floyd might be on drugs.

“A reasonable police officer understands the intensity of the struggle,” Nelson said, noting that Chauvin’s body camera and badge were knocked off his chest.

Nelson also showed the jury pictures of pills found in Floyd’s SUV and pill remnants discovered in the squad car. Fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in Floyd’s system.

The defense attorney said the failure of the prosecution to acknowledge that medical problems or drugs played a role “defies medical science and it defies common sense and reason.”

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