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Trial Begins for Ex-Police Officer Charged in George Floyd's Death; Michigan Warns of Third Surge as Cases Accelerate Statewide; Ever Given Ship Full Dislodged and is Currently Floating. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2021 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour. A good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy has the week off.

Just moments ago, the family of George Floyd, his lawyers as well, kneeling in moments, minutes of silence, eight minutes 46 seconds, before entering the courtroom where, just minutes from now, court proceedings resume in the murder trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.

Ten months ago, Floyd died under Chauvin's knee. Video of his death sparked a national outcry, an international outcry, against police brutality. Chauvin is now facing multiple murder charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

CNN's Omar Jimenez, he has covered from the beginning, he now stands outside the courthouse there, which we should note, is surrounded by fence and concrete barriers, preparations for reactions to events inside that courtroom.

Omar, you witnessed the eight minutes,46 seconds just a couple of minutes ago, and I was, of course, watching it here, as I'm sure many of our viewers were, intended to highlight just how long Chauvin's knee was on George Floyd. I wonder as you're there in that city now and you were there watching this moment unfold, tell us what you heard. Tell us what the mood is, the tension.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, I mean, you didn't have to look hard over the course of those eight minutes and 46 seconds when they were kneeling to show how long of a time that actually was. And, of course, it was meant to be representative of the amount of time that Chauvin's knee was on George Floyd's neck.

And right before that, we heard from members of George Floyd's family and their attorneys about what this moment means to them and about the stakes involved in this moment. And one of those family members is Terrence Floyd, the brother of George Floyd. And one of the things that you said really struck me about the fact that people say that you should trust the system, but this is really the opportunity. Tell me about that and how you're feeling ahead of opening statements here.

TERRENCE FLOYD, BROTHER OF GEORGE FLOYD: I -- like I said before, I've seen the cases of Sean Bell and Eric Gardner. I lived in the neighborhood where Sean Bell was murdered. I watched on T.V. the assassination of Eric Gardner. And both those cases, there was no justice. And when it was clearly a murder charge. It was clearly a murder charge.

So, you know, everybody -- they always say trust the system. Trust the system. We got you. You know, you're going receive justice. Well, to me and my family, this is the time now to show us and prove to us that we're going to get justice and we deserve it.

JIMENEZ: And one of the other things that I believe Brandon said when you guys came up here was that each trip coming to Minneapolis for you all was a lot more difficult in the beginning. But now, it seems that you're all focused and that you want one mission and the goal of justice to be fulfilled here. Is it any easier to come here to Minneapolis? And when you look at what's about to happen in trial, what are the conversations that happen amongst the family members and attorneys about what you're hoping for?

FLOYD: Well, like I said before, we're hoping the justice. We're hoping for accountability. That's the word that me and my family hold strong to, is accountability. You know, that's what we're looking for in this case.

Coming to Minnesota, those other times, yes, it was difficult because it was for the same -- under the same situation but it was for different reasons. But now, this one just one specific reason. We come into this court to receive justice and that's it.

JIMENEZ: Well, Terrence, I know you all will be watching closely, as the rest of the country is right now, and, really, a movement to see what criminal accountability is going to look like in the case of Derek Chauvin and to see if full justice, as the attorneys for George Floyd, said is achieved here. They already got it on the civil side, as they've said. But now comes the steeper hill to climb, the criminal side as opening statements begin once court gets back in session here in minutes.

SCIUTTO: And we will have the rare privilege of a view inside that courtroom with cameras present and we will bring you those opening statements live as they happen, Omar Jimenez there outside courthouse.

Other major story we are following this morning, health experts are now warning that another surge could hit, may already be hitting, before most people in this country are vaccinated against the coronavirus. Right now, 27 states are seeing an increase in cases.


In Michigan, notably, new infections have jumped more than 50 percent just in the last week.

CNN's Miguel Marquez joins us now from Detroit, Michigan. Miguel, this time, what is notable about this beyond the numbers is who in these numbers, it's young people getting infected here. Can health officials explain why? Is that behavioral and what that means more broadly?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in simple terms, it's that younger people and those under really 50 at this point are getting vaccinated at much lower rates. But there are other factors that are at play here. The fact that the economy is reopening, the fact that people are more mobile, more social gatherings going on, that people are going out more, that schools are starting to reopen, that sports teams are playing. All those factors blend into why there is a spike in cases especially among young people.

27 states are now rising in cases, 16 are holding steady and only five states are actually decreasing in cases right now. So there is a real concern about the vaccine versus the variants, these variants that are establishing themselves here in Michigan and in other places.

The numbers in Michigan and across the country are stunning in some cases, week-to-week. So the number of cases last week compared to the number of case this is week. In Michigan, up 56 percent, in Louisiana, up 42 percent, in Connecticut, up 39 percent, in North Dakota, 38 percent, in Iowa, 36 percent up week-on-week.

But other places, like Florida, they've also seen very big increases in the number of cases as well. Authorities very, very concerned, trying to get a hold of this. They know they have community spread out there. They know that it is spreading broadly.

One issue that they have is there's not enough testing going on right now. They're trying to do more testing to figure out where those outbreaks are as they happen. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, just go to an airport, and a lot of people decided they're moving on regardless of the numbers. Miguel Marquez, thanks very much.

Well, there are new details this morning about the Biden administration's efforts to develop a system for people to prove they've been vaccinated. These have been referred to as vaccine passports that they can acquire for travel, for instance.

CNN's Kristen Holmes joins me now. Kristen, you have some new reporting on this, and this is not an easy issue here, right? I mean, there are privacy concerns. After all, this is medical information. What can you tell us about the Biden administration's plans here?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim, there are a lot of concerns. And this is still in the preliminary stages because of that. These are discussion that are now ongoing. We know the administration is working with a range of companies, from non- profits to tech companies, on what exactly this system or set of standards would look like.

Now, I'm told that this is a really whole of government approach. You mention travel. Well, they're also talking about working with the Department of Labor. They're working cross agencies, the State Department. Because they believe that this is going to impact all areas of life.

Now, again, I want to note, we are being told this is still the preliminary stages, that would likely not be finalized for several weeks. But what could it look like?

Now this is from reporting in The Washington Post. They talked about some of the things that they had heard would likely or could be part of this set of standards. That would include possibility of it being free, of it being a smart phone app, of it being something that was scannable or that you could have a print option.

Obviously, you know, here when you look at this, this is the wide variety of set that would appeal to people in various, different age groups and walks of life.

Now, this is all being done as we are seeing more and more people get vaccinated, and businesses have a lot of concerns as to how exactly to handle this. Of course, we know everyone wants to open up. But how can they do that safely?

I want to look at the most recent numbers here. 54 percent of the U.S. population is currently vaccinated. That is fully vaccinated. 28.2 percent is partially vaccinated. These numbers are just going to just continue to go up and up. And that is why people are seeking some kind of help from the administration on those standards as to how exactly this is going to look moving forward.

SCIUTTO: No question, and enforcement too, right? If you set standards, how do you enforce those standards? Kristen Holmes, thanks very much.

Dr. Deborah Birx, she was the former White House coronavirus coordinator under Trump, gave just a brutal assessment of that administration's response to the pandemic in a CNN special report last night.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When you look at your data now and you think, okay, had we mitigated earlier, had we actually paused earlier and actually done it, how much of an impact do you think that would have made?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Well, I look at it this way. The first time we have an excuse, there were about 100,000 death that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them in my mind could have been mitigated or decrease substantially.


I dealt with presidents and prime ministers around the globe who will often have misperceptions about diseases and the community that that disease impacts. But I've always found that if you can find that common ground with the information and data, they will change policies. He's been so attentive to the scientific literature and details and the data. And I think --

As part of the reason why I did say at one time the president looked at the data and understood the data because he wouldn't have shut down the country for 15 days and then another 30. But that never really happened again because there were too many parallel streams of data.


SCIUTTO: It's quite an alarming view from inside at a senior level of the Trump administration. Joining me now Dr. Carlos del Rio, Executive Associate Dean at Emory University School of Medicine.

Doctor that, is quite an admission from someone who is advising the president of the United States, saying that these deaths, many could have been avoided, could have been decreased substantially, in her words, had the Trump administration taken this more seriously. I wonder based on what you know, do you agree with that assessment?

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT GRADY: Well, Jim, let me just say first that the documentary, the special that Sanjay put together is simply wonderful and is one that everyone should watch. Because, quite frankly, this is really, yes, he described an autopsy of the episode even though the episode is still not over. Lots of things are still being written right now as to how we respond to the pandemic.

But the reality is that, you know, what Dr. Birx said, I think she's absolutely right. It was leadership. It was communication. It was not following the science that led to a lot of problems and we are still trying to deal with that because, as you look around the country, there are many states opening without looking at the science. There are many states not taking the right decisions right now. That's why we're seeing cases go up. We have never had a national response. We still don't have it. It's a local response state by state and that doesn't help.

SCIUTTO: There was some attempts at historical revisionism from those accounts there. One, for instance, from Admiral Giroir, the so-called testing czar under Trump, he said last night that when we said there were millions of tests available, there weren't. That is quite an admission because he on camera last July said, hey, we're going have 50 million tests available, 300 million, you know, that it's going to get to this level. Tell me what your reaction was seeing that when there were accounts today directly contradict what they said to the American people months ago.

DEL RIO: Well, you know, it's very sad and it's very -- it was not surprising that we're seeing that. You know, throughout, you know, telling -- not telling the truth was something that we heard a lot from the administration throughout the pandemic and, quote frankly, those of us on the ground would hear things and then realize that that wasn't the case. You know, when President Trump came to CDC and said every American that wants to test can get a test, we knew, those of us working on the ground, knew that wasn't the case. So, again, you simply listen to a lot of the comments and you said, well, you know, we're not -- they're not telling the truth.

SCIUTTO: Final question before I let you go, just as to what is happening today. We are seeing a disturbing rise in new infections, particularly in some states. I mean, Michigan up 50 percent. We're not yet -- I know this can be a lagging indicator -- seeing a marked increase in deaths and hospitalizations. Do you expect that to then logically follow or is enough of the country vaccinated in some previously exposed to prevent a big jump?

DEL RIO: You know, I think that the latter is going to be the case, Jim. If you think about the fact that 80 percent of deaths were in people over the age of 65 and we know right now that about 75 percent of people over the age of 65 have been immunized, the reality is we're probably going to continue seeing cases raise. And there will be a little bit of a raise in deaths but it's not going to be that much. Deaths may, in fact, continue going down precisely because we have immunized some people at high-risk of dying.

But we have to continue to immunizing people. We're still way away from really getting to herd immunity and we have to get people to continue taking precautions.

SCIUTTO: Understood, so comforting but please don't let your guard down. Dr. Carlos del Rio, always good to have you on.

DEL RIO: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, breaking news, that giant ship, and it's big, that was blocking the Suez Canal and, therefore, billions and billions of dollars in global transport, it's finally on the move. It's free. We're going to be live from there, next.


Plus, minutes from now, opening statements will begin in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin charged with murdering George Floyd. We're going to bring you those comments live.


SCIUTTO: Breaking news, that massive cargo ship, the Ever Given, that has been blocking the Suez Canal and, really, the streams of global commerce is now free, finally, floating once again.


CNN's Ben Wedeman, he is live in Cairo for more on this. I mean, you could hear the cheers as you watched the video of this happening. How did they do it?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I was cheering too, Jim. It was a really difficult effort starting almost from the moment when it ran aground in the early mornings of -- hours of last Tuesday. And, you know, they've been dredging around the ship. They have been using more than a dozen tugboats to try to move it.

Early this morning, they were able to free the stern. There were problems midday because high winds caused the ship to go back in its original position straddling the Suez. But about an hour and a half ago, news came out that it had been totally freed and the ship, the Ever Given, is now on its way to the Great Bitter Lake, which is about 30 kilometers north of the location where it was stranded. There, the ship will be inspected to make sure that its news were rather sea worthy.

We're told that navigation has now resumed in the Suez Canal. Lots of cargo has been backed up. It's moving again. I suppose we can say better late than never. Jim?

SCIUTTO: And why do you care? As you look at that ship, probably a lot of the things you ordered, wherever you are in the world on Amazon, sitting there. Hundreds of ships were behind it. Ben Wedeman, thanks very much.

Opening statements in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, they're about to begin in just minutes. He accused, of course, of killing George Floyd.

Joining me again is CNN Senior Legal Analyst and retired Los Angeles Police Sergeant Cheryl Dorsey.

Laura, as we begin this trial, something strikes me here. There are three charges on the books here against Derek Chauvin. There was some reporting in the days, weeks immediately after Floyd's death that there was a plea deal that Chauvin was prepared to plead guilty to third degree murder, believing the evidence against him was so great. That was rejected by then-Attorney General Bill Barr because he thought it might not be enough, right, given the outrage. Is that relevant as we begin the trial here? Does it affect the case?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, of course, one of the reasons that we are told that Attorney General Barr at the time declined is because that plea offer came with conditions that they could not have a federal charge. Again, they couldn't have a federal case. And so the idea of withholding or foreclosing the opportunity for federal level probably was very unattractive to them, that Department of Justice.

But now, the idea of whether it will factor in, well, jurors are as aware of this as you are. If they heard the reporting, they may be inclined to take into account that he has already been willing to accept a plea when it came to third-degree. But, remember, there are higher charge involved as well. So the idea of having the second- degree as a part of that will also be part of the case.

Remember, he didn't actually take that plea. And until it's all said and done, until the ink is dry, prosecutors can never count that in their essential basket. But I think it will be relevant here because if you're willing to admit guilt, if you're willing to admit liability and in another context, that it's going to behoove the jurors to consider that why now would the person be unwilling to say they have done that very thing?

It's all going to come down to the government's burden of proof. But you're right, Jim, the idea he was willing to do so might not be in there to his benefit at all.

SCIUTTO: As she was speaking, there you saw the three charges he's facing here, second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, the lowest among that with a maximum sentence of ten years.

Sergeant Cheryl Dorsey, it was notable to me as I heard the Floyd family attorneys speak that they were already addressing what is expected to be part of the Chauvin defense strategy here, and that is citing evidence of some drugs in Floyd's system here. They say that what killed George Floyd was an overdose of force, nothing about drugs.

I wonder, as you heard that there, where you expect the defense go here and do you expect that to have an impact?

CHERYL DORSEY, AUTHOR, BLACK AND BLUE: Well, listen, we see time and time again that defense attorneys try to dirty up the victim. And we've already had a preview of that in the case of George Floyd where they've talked about a prior encounter we are police officers last year and we know that some of that is going to be addressed in front of the jury.

But what is different between that 2019 incident and what happened last year is that George Floyd was -- his neck -- someone kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. And so we know that if, in fact, he had drugs, and he was not charged with anything, but let's go with their version, if he had drugs in his system at 2019 and they're saying that that is very similar, why then did he not die in 2019? He died in 2020 because of a knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, plain and simple.


The coroner attested to that. He died of asphyxiation.

But they're going to dirty him up in front of the jury try portray him in a way that is not favorable.

SCIUTTO: Well, Laura Coates, things are progressing in the courtroom. We will go to the courtroom live once it begins. But while I have you here, and there is the judge sitting down, experts hired by George Floyd's family and the Hennepin County medical examiner, both concluded the death was homicide. But the county autopsy does not -- actually, hold that, Laura Coates. Let's listen into the courtroom.

JUDGE PETER CAHILL, HENNEPIN COUNTY, MINNESOTA DISTRICT COURT: And please raise your hand now and we'll make sure that you get a hearing assistance device. All right, no hands.

If during the trial at any time you have difficult hearing or understanding what a witness is saying or if a witness or attorney should block your view, please raise your hand immediately so that we can correct the problem.

Now, during the trial, you're going to hear the testimony of several witnesses. You will have to make judgments about the credibility and the weight of their testimony. Be patient and listen to the testimony of all the witnesses. Keep all in mind until you heard all of the evidence.

As you listen to the witnesses, you should take note of such manners as the witness' interest or lack of interest in the outcome of the case, the ability and opportunity to know the number and tell the facts, their experience, frankness and sincerity or the lack thereof, the reasonableness or the unreasonableness of a testimony in light of all the other evidence, and any other factors that bear on the question of believability and credibility. In the last analysis, you should rely on your own experience, good judgment and common sense.

Now, you have been given a notepad so that you may take notes during the trial. Should you not, however, feel required to do so. The most important thing is that you give full attention to the testimony as you hear it.

Now, to protect the privacy of your notes, I would suggest you write your random juror number, which we'll keep the same and put that on the first sheet and then begin taking notes on the second sheet. We'll also have extra pads if you run out of space.

Now, we will collect and keep your notes secure at the end of each day so you can leave them on the chair during breaks and at the end of the day. At the end of the trial, you will be allowed to take your notes with you into deliberation and I will instruct you further regarding the use of those notes at the end of the trial.

Keep in mind also that I cannot give you a trial transcript at the end of the trial. No such transcript can be prepared for your deliberation. We count on the jury to rely on its collective memory and the exhibits submitted to you.

And during the trial, an objection may be made to some evidence. And I may sustain or overrule the objection. If I sustain the objection, it means that the question may not be answered. In that case, you should simply ignore the question and any answer that might have been given. If no answer was given before the objection was made, you should not speculate about what the possible answer might have been. Similarly, if I instruct you during the trial to disregard some statement that a witness or attorney has made, then you must disregard it.

If I overrule the objection, it means that the question may be answered. In that case, you should treat the answer like any other answer. Similarly, if an exhibit is received despite an objection, you should treat that exhibit like any other evidence.

From time to time during the trial, the attorneys will need to discuss issues of law or scheduling matters with me. If these discussions are brief, the lawyers and I will use the wireless headsets while the white noise is on. If the discussions are lengthier, I may take a recess.

Please understand we are not attempting to conceal anything from you, which is necessary for you to hear. I ask that you be patient when we have these discussions even though they may interrupt the case. And just as an aside, we are scheduled to have the time between 8:30 and 9:30 every morning set aside for the lawyers to argue legal issues. So, hopefully, we can handle most of that before we start again at the end of 9:30 each morning.

Now, when I turn on the white noise, that is your indication that the conversation is not for you. So, please, do not attempt to listen in. And please come to order when I turn the white noise off.


And I'm also giving that instruction to anyone who is a spectator here. The white noise is a private conversation usually about scheduling, nothing exciting, between me.