Derek Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. If proven guilty he may face up to 40 years in prison. However, American legal observers and netizens are expressing concerns about whether the now fired police officer will get a fair trial.
The Chauvin case appears to be anything but typical: before the hearings even began the US mainstream media had started speculating that if the ex-cop gets "anything under a 10-year sentence" racial justice activists would "go into an uproar" in Minneapolis. Nearly a year ago, the city was set ablaze over Floyd's death in police custody. The protest swiftly spread across the US accompanied by vandalism, arson, and looting.
Meanwhile, on 12 March 2021, the city of Minneapolis agreed to pay $27 million to settle a civil lawsuit from Floyd's family. Citing legal experts, the Associated Press suggested at the time that additional pre-trial publicity over the multi-million settlement could be "bad for the defence" since it could lead some jurors to think guilt "has already been decided".
However, on 19 March, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill denied the request by Eric Nelson, Chauvin's defence attorney, who asked to move the proceedings to another city in order to ensure that his client gets a fair trial.
During the three-week trial, the prosecution sought to prove that Floyd died of asphyxiation while being held in a prone position with Chauvin kneeling on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. For its part, the defence insisted that the African American's death was caused by a complex of factors, most notably his heart problems and a potential drug overdose.
The state's medical experts appeared not to agree on the factors contributing to Floyd's death. Thus, Dr Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist who specialises in the mechanics of breathing, said that any healthy person would have died if subjected to restraint techniques exercised by Chauvin and his associates. For his part, Hennepin County's chief medical examiner Dr Andrew Baker stated that "both the heart disease as well as the history of hypertension and the drugs that were in his system played a role" in the man's death. Having admitted that Chauvin's knee had not cut off Floyd's airway, Baker suggested that the police officers' actions were the direct cause behind the fatal outcome.
On 14 April, defence witness Dr David Fowler, a retired forensic pathologist, managed to sow some doubt about Chauvin's conduct being a "substantial contributor" to Floyd's death. However, on the very next day the prosecution abruptly signalled that it had discovered "new evidence" that justified recalling Dr Tobin. Prosecutors presented the medical records of Floyd's blood concentration of CO that had never been previously shown in the trial, with Dr Tobin attempting to rebut some of Dr Fowler's conclusions.
During these back-and-forths, a new racial justice protest erupted in Minneapolis over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year old African American, by a now fired police officer in Minnesota's Brooklyn Center on 11 April. During the last week, the protest has gained steam and spread to other cities.
On top of this, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters visited Brooklyn Center on Saturday night calling upon protesters to "stay in the street" and become "more confrontational" if Chauvin is acquitted of killing Floyd.
Rep. Maxine Waters calls for rioters to "stay in the street" and "fight for justice" against police unless Chauvin is declared guilty for murder, not just manslaughter.— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) April 18, 2021
"We got to get more confrontational. We got to make sure they know we mean business." pic.twitter.com/YVdV8QHfUM
"I hope we're going to get a verdict that will say guilty, guilty, guilty, [in the Chauvin trial]. And if we don't, we cannot go away", Waters told the press, prompting a storm of criticism from her Republican counterparts in the House.
Name the trial where the jury deliberated during riots & a Congresswoman demanded the jury convict or the riots would continue? #DerekChauvinTrial— Robert Barnes (@barnes_law) April 18, 2021
Some netizens wondered whether the congresswoman was deliberately playing into the hands of Chauvin's defence to make the racial wound "continue to fester" in the city.
"Judge made a mistake keeping the trial in Minneapolis. [Maxine Waters] just gave Chauvin a strong appeal", tweeted Roberts Barnes, an American trial lawyer.
Earlier in the day, the former Santa Rosa home of Barry Brodd, who testified as a defence witness in the Chauvin trial was subjected to vandalism, being smeared with animal blood. A severed pig's head was dumped on the house's front porch. A large hand statue in front of the Santa Rosa Plaza mall was vandalised with a similar substance. The suspects also left a sign with a picture of a pig and the words "Oink Oink" near the statue.
1/2: Vandals hurl decapitated pig’s head & animal blood at one-time home of former @SantaRosaPolice Ofc. Barry Brodd, who recently testified for the defense in ex-@MinneapolisPD Ofc. Derek Chauvin’s murder trial in the death of George Floyd. Hand statue at @santarosaplaza hit too pic.twitter.com/2DUziho4t3— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) April 18, 2021
"I'm sure this won't influence the jury. At. All", Andrew F. Branca, an American attorney who owns the account Law of Self Defence, tweeted ironically.