The day began with jury instructions from Judge Peter Cahill, which were, of course drafted with input from both sides. I listened carefully and they sounded fairly standard; nothing wildly pro-prosecution or defense. That did not surprise me. The judge has been fair and even-handed throughout the trial. This does, however, give the prosecution an edge because they have such a strong case.
PROSECUTION ARGUMENT: Calm but impassioned best describes lead prosecutor Steve Schleicher’s style. It’s what you’d expect from a Minnesota lawyer. Those people aren’t known for raising their voices. It’s a perfect demeanor for a trial lawyer.
Schleicher began by discussing who George Floyd was and why the police response to his alleged crime was disproportionate. A reminder that the call for service was initiated because Floyd passed a counterfeit bill. It remains unclear if he knew it was a fake or not. Whatever the case, suspects are rarely cuffed and arrested for passing funny money. They’re typically issued a summons. That’s right, it’s a ticket, the monetary equivalent of a traffic stop. Repeat after me: Nobody should die during a traffic stop.
Schleicher emphasized that Floyd complied with the police until they tried to shove this large man into the cramped backseat of a squad car. Even then Floyd’s “resistance” was mostly verbal telling the cops that he was claustrophobic and not a bad guy. I understand this because I’m mildly claustrophobic myself. They did not listen and the result was George’s Floyd’s death.
Schleicher urged the jury to use their common sense and ignore the nonsense thrown at them by the defense. Nonsense is, of course, Eric Nelson’s specialty.
Schleicher pre-rebutted some of Nelson’s sillier arguments: crowd noise, carbon monoxide and the like.
For any conservative leaning jurors, Schleicher stressed that this was “not a prosecution of the police, it’s a prosecution of the defendant.” Something that was supported by the testimony of seven law enforcement professionals AGAINST Chauvin.
This was one of the strongest passages of the prosecution’s argument:
“This wasn’t policing; this was murder,” Schleicher told jurors. He cited the motto of the Minneapolis Police Department, which fired Chauvin and three other officers involved the day after Floyd’s arrest: “To protect with courage and to serve with compassion.”
“George Floyd was not a threat to anyone,” Schleicher said, often speaking with audible anger and disgust. “Facing George Floyd that day that did not require one ounce of courage, and none was shown on that day, no courage was required. All that was required was a little compassion and none was shown on that day.”
Compassion seems to be in short supply when it comes to Derek Chauvin.
I’m in a pedagogical mood so I’ll rate Schleicher’s argument. It was cogent, coherent, and well organized. I give him an A- mostly because I’m a tough grader.
DEFENSE ARGUMENT: Nelson’s argument started off fairly well, but unraveled under the weight of his words. He even conceded that he was going to be long-winded. He did not disappoint.
I originally planned to count Nelson’s use of the word right. I gave up at twenty. Oy just oy.
Nelson’s argument was disjointed and disorganized. It gave me a reasonable doubt that he’s a competent counsel. He also has some issues with the language. I’ve never heard the word fanciful pronounced fancy-full. I laughed, then thought of this venerable song:
Nelson stressed the “reasonable police officer” argument. As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing reasonable about putting one’s knee on another guy’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.
I thought Nelson’s use of video backfired. It made it clear that Floyd was begging for his life as Chauvin pinned him in a prone position. Floyd was even polite calling Chauvin, Mr. Officer when he was really Officer Asshole.
Nelson must have hoped that the guttural and agonized sounds made by Floyd would evoke stereotypes of scary Black street criminals but instead they were pitiable. Chauvin reacted with no pity. I don’t think he’s capable of it; another reason for keeping him off the witness stand.
The cause of death portion of Nelson’s argument was equally weak. Instead of keeping it short and punchy, he went on and on and on, so I’ll keep it short and snappy. It was unconvincing and so windy that the judge took a lunch break before Nelson finished.
I tried not to be too hard on Nelson just because I’ve come to dislike him over the course of the trial. It’s a very tough case for a defense lawyer. He has an unappealing client who would have no chance of acquittal if he weren’t a cop. I’m doubtful that an acquittal is possible at this point, especially since the jury is likely to be pissed off at Nelson’s windbaggery,
Nelson’s strategy seems to have been to bore or starve the jury into submission. I don’t think it will work. I give his closing argument a D- and that’s being charitable.
PROSECUTION REBUTTAL: Two of MSNBC’s Black reporters insisted on calling Jerry Blackwell the Johnnie Cochran of the Midwest. It’s meant as a compliment, but their styles are entirely different. Besides, Blackwell is alive, and Johnnie is not. So it goes.
Blackwell did a decent job but I, along with everyone else, had trial fatigue as he spoke. I just wanted it to end.
Finally. today was a disaster for the defense. Nobody wants to hear anyone speak for 3 hours. Nelson is lucky that Chauvin didn’t kick his ass on the break. Eric Nelson is now the Fidel Castro of the legal profession. What a maroon.