Return to Transcripts main page


Closing Arguments in Chauvin Murder Trial. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 19, 2021 - 15:00   ET



ERIC NELSON, ATTORNEY FOR DEREK CHAUVIN: We know that, on May 6 of 2019, during an encounter with the police, Mr. Floyd ingested some controlled substances. Said they were Percocets.

He was startled by the police, like he was in this case. The officer drew his gun in that case, too. And that resulted in a blood pressure of 216 over 160. I mean, that's not just high. That is skyrocketing high.

We know from Ms. Ross that, in March of 2020, they purchased some pills that were supposed to be Percocets, an opioid. But they were clearly knockoffs. She described that. They were clearly knockoffs. She described how those pills made her feel.

They kept her up all night, right, introduction of the methamphetamine. We know, from Ms. Ross, that, in March of 2020, Mr. Floyd was seen for a drug overdose. She described how he felt in that instance. She said his whole body hurt. His stomach hurt.

We know, based on, again, from Ms. Ross, that he was clean and sober for some time while they were in quarantine. We know that Ms. Ross, again, described taking, about a week before, a similar pill to the one that they had back in March. Kept her up again all night, right? She said she felt like she was going to die.

We know, again from Ms. Ross, that those pills were purchased from Morries Hall. She described going to a hotel while Mr. Floyd went into the hotel. She was on the phone with him. She heard Morries Hall's voice. We know Mr. Floyd was with Morries Hall on May 25, 2020.

We heard, from the store clerk, Christopher Martin. He described Mr. Floyd as being high. His responses were delayed, right? He may have been standing around. He may have been standing up. He may have been able to have communications. But Mr. Martin clearly described him as being high.

We heard from Shawanda Hill that, when they got back into the car, right, they had a conversation for a few minutes, and, suddenly, Mr. Floyd fell asleep. All of these things become important, that he's had trouble -- they had trouble waking him up. She called her daughter for a ride because they couldn't wake her up

-- wake Mr. Floyd up. They couldn't keep him awake. We heard how Mr. Martin described Mr. Floyd when he went to back to the car and how he was, "Oh, no."

And he wasn't speaking, right? But he kept putting his head back and shaking his head. We know, from Peter Chang's body-worn camera that Morries Hall also described that Mr. Floyd was dozing off.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he was falling asleep a little bit, and then, when he woke up (OFF-MIKE)


NELSON: All right?

We know that whether Mr. Floyd was chewing gum while he was in the store, we can also see he was eating a banana, right? He bought a banana.

So, we know, when we look at this picture, right, there's something in Mr. Floyd's mouth. Is it gum? Is it banana? Is it drugs? Nobody knows, all right? But, regardless of whether it's drugs, bananas, or gum in this instant, we know that there were pills in the car, right? We know that there were drugs in the car.

We know those pills were later tested to be a combination of methamphetamine and fentanyl. That's what was in Mr. Floyd's system. It's relevant because what was in his system. These are the pills that were found.


We know, at some point, Mr. Floyd was handcuffed. His hands are behind his back. It would have been physically impossible to put anything in his mouth at that point. And we know that, in the squad car, 320, were pills. We know those pills were analyzed.

We know those pills consisted of fentanyl and methamphetamine. We know that Mr. Floyd's salivary DNA was found on those pills.

How much fentanyl does it take to kill? This is from the Minneapolis Police Department's training, approximately two to three milligrams, smaller than a penny. This is from the squad car. You can look at these pictures closely during the course of your evidence.

There is a video of Mr. Floyd when Mr. Floyd is being subdued by and restrained by the police. Mr. Morries Hall reaches into his bag. He's looking through the windows. We watched it, right, and then he throws something, right?

We know that Mr. Floyd had drugs in his mouth. We know that some percentage of that would have been consumed and absorbed into his system. We don't know how much he took before, right? We don't know when he took an earlier dose in relation, because fentanyl had actually started to metabolize in his -- so, fentanyl was longer before.

For the medical experts to minimize the timing and the amount of illicit drugs that were found in Mr. Floyd's bloodstream, it is just simply incredible to me. It is incredible to me. Every single doctor testified that, relevant to the -- that the absence of signs of fentanyl overdose weren't present because he was alert, he was talking.

But it ignores what Shawanda Hill and Morries Hall says, right, that he was, all of a sudden, asleep and difficult to wake up. It ignores the fact that the combination of these two drugs -- methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant. Fentanyl is a powerful sedative. They use it for surgeries. Every single doctor dismissed outright, no, no -- nothing about this case.

Well, it was only 0.19 grams nanograms per milliliter. It's such a small amount of methamphetamine in his system. It's a vasoconstrictor. It causes the heart's arteries to constrict even tighter. Doesn't matter. Every single doctor just brushed it aside, said it would have no effect.

I ask, would any of those doctors prescribe illicit methamphetamine to their patients? Would they give it to their children? Would they give it to their elderly parents with a 90 percent blockage of the coronary artery, the right coronary artery? I guarantee you the answer is no.

Dr. Rich is the only one who said, I would never recommend to my patients that they take any amount of illicit methamphetamine. It is preposterous that -- it's a preposterous notion that this did not come into play here.


PETER CAHILL, HENNEPIN COUNTY, MINNESOTA, JUDGE: Mr .Nelson (OFF- MIKE) half-hour break for lunch. I don't want to interrupt your argument, but


NELSON: I apologize.

Members of the jury, 30 minutes for lunch, please. Thank you.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: OK. Hello, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us.

I'm Alisyn Camerota, along with Victor Blackwell here.

And for the past more than, well--

BLACKWELL: Two-and-a-half hours.

CAMEROTA: Yes, more than two hours.

You have been watching the defense make their closing argument in the Derek Chauvin trial. The former Minneapolis police officer is charged with murdering George Floyd by kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes.

The defense argues that Chauvin's actions were reasonable. OK, so we know that our legal experts have also been standing by for all this time and listening.

And let's get right to them.

Joining us now, we have Areva Martin, a CNN legal analyst and civil rights attorney, and CNN legal analyst Elie Honig. He's a former federal prosecutor.

Elie, I know you have been paying very close attention to this more than two hours of Eric Nelson.

How did he do?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Alisyn, so far, this has been a clinic in distraction, a clinic in blame shifting.

The defense so far has really tried to get the jury to focus on everything but, everything but the heart of the matter.

I will give you an example with the 9:29. We know that 9:29 is the crucial period in this case when Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd's neck. The defense lawyer said that is -- quote -- "not the proper analysis."

Not the proper analysis? That's the only analysis that really matters here in terms of the use of force.

Another thing that's really important, the defense lawyer has misstated the law on medical causation. He is leading this jury to believe that, if there were any other factors involved other than the knee to the neck, the verdict has to be not guilty.

But here's what the judge instructed the jury earlier. And watch for the prosecution to correct this. The judge said: "The fact that other causes contributed to death does not relieve the defendant of criminal liability."

That's why you have rebuttal. The prosecution has to clean that up.

BLACKWELL: Areva, let me bring you in here, because I don't want to rush by what just happened as we came to air to -- for analysis.

The judge here just interrupted and said, we have got to send the jury to lunch. We had an hour and 45 minutes from Steve Schleicher from the state, special prosecutor, and more than two-and-a-half-hours into the defense's closing argument. The judge just cut him off.

That seems atypical, that he would interrupt the closing arguments from the defense.

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's probably to the defense's -- inure to a benefit to the defense, because, let's face it, these are individuals. And they have been sitting in this courtroom now for almost four-and-a-half-hours listening to testimony.

And as riveting as this testimony may be to us as journalists and as legal analysts, to the everyday person that's called to jury duty, this is grueling. It's grueling to sit there and listen to each of these lawyers go through in painstaking detail all of the evidence that they have already heard for the last couple of weeks.

So, Victor, although it's not common to cut someone off in the middle of their argument and go to lunch, I think this is a benefit to the defense, because I can imagine -- we haven't gotten pool notes yet from the reporter inside the courthouse, but I can imagine there may be some jurors who are drifting off.

Jurors get very irritated when they're hungry and they haven't had food. So I think the judge made a good call, because it doesn't look like Eric Nelson is any way getting to his -- to the final part of his closing argument. Sounds like he might have another 30, 45 minutes to go.

CAMEROTA: Elie, before we get to the meat of what he was saying, I do want your stylistic point on that.

I mean, it is hard as a juror to stay laser-focused if you're hungry, if you have been listening for at least two-and-a-half-hours, and he kept apologizing. Eric Nelson kept apologizing for being long-winded. You have been a trial attorney? Is there some science to when you're supposed to let a jury take a break?

HONIG: There's no science, but there's certainly common sense.

I mean, you have to read the room. Juries have very limited attention spans. I mean, there's been studies that show juries lose attention after 40, 45 minutes. He's going too long.

I mean, if you as a viewer are finding yourself going, when does this end, where's he going, I guarantee you the jurors are thinking the same thing, especially when it's 2:15 in Minneapolis, p.m. I'm sure they're thinking about lunch.

I think the judge did him a favor there by cutting him off when he did.

BLACKWELL: All right, Areva, let's go into the actual content of the closing argument.

And it seems as if, thus far, maybe because it's gone on now nearly an hour longer than the closing from the state, that the defense is using far more video, far more of the bodycam to make its case.

Is that -- to borrow a phrase from Laura Coates, is the juice worth the squeeze? Because what I'm hearing is George Floyd call out to his mother, George Floyd continue to say, "I can't breathe." He puts up a photograph. What's in the center of the frame is the gun, not really the item, gum, banana or pill, that's in George Floyd's mouth.


What's your assessment of the use of video and the evidence in his closing?

MARTIN: Yes, I think you're right, Victor.

This video is extremely troubling for the defense. And every time they use a piece of this video, they run the risk of alienating these jurors and causing these jurors to be taken back to what the heart of this case is, which is that nine minutes and 29 seconds.

That's -- that piece of video with that gun in the face of George Floyd, I think, is fatal to the defense's position, because what they're trying to convince us -- what they want us to believe is that somehow the conduct of these officers, and particularly Derek Chauvin, was reasonable.

And they want us to look back before the nine minutes and 29 seconds. He keeps talking about these 17 minutes. But I think what the jurors see is a man who was compliant, who was doing everything he was asked to do by these police officers, putting his hands on the steering wheel, starting immediately to talk about his claustrophobia and his anxiety.

And yet what we saw is these overly aggressive police officers dropping the F-bombs, pointing a gun in his face, wrestling with him in this car. I think that whole focus on that so-called when he was being aggressive, as the -- Chauvin's lawyer wants us to believe, I think that's going to hurt the defense.

I'm sitting here thinking, you got a man that's 6 feet tall. You say he's a big guy. And there has to be a bigger car that you can call. There has to be a different technique that you can use, because we saw him sitting next to that building very calm, answering questions, responding to police officers.

So, I think jurors, again, not leaving their common sense at home, are going to be thinking, gee, couldn't you guys have taken him out of that car, sat him down, slowed the situation down, and use some better de-escalation tactics, rather than this wrestling back and forth over this tiny little cage, I think, as the prosecutor, correctly called the backseat of that squad car.

BLACKWELL: And, Alisyn, that's what we heard from Steve Schleicher. He continuously went through the chronology there and said, that's not resistance. That's compliance.

He was sitting next to the wall. That's not resistance. That's compliance, to Areva's point there.

CAMEROTA: Elie, what did you think?

HONIG: Yes, I agree.

I actually -- if I'm the prosecutor, I would argue to the jury, everything before the 9:29 is really a big, who cares? I mean, it's atmospherics. It's sort of sets the stage.

But the time when they are charging -- the prosecution is charging that this murder occurred during those 9:29. And so was there a struggle to get into the police car? Yes, there was. Does it matter once George Floyd is rear-handcuffed, face down on the pavement with three officers on top of him?

A lot of closing arguments are about focus. And the prosecution wants to draw the focus to the key points, to Derek Chauvin, to those 9:29. And, as we're seeing now, the defense wants to throw the focus everywhere and anywhere else.

And the prosecution's task, when they get their chance to rebut after this, is going to be to bring that focus back to Derek Chauvin and those 9:29.

CAMEROTA: But, Elie, only one more thing about that videotape, because I thought that the defense attorney, Eric Nelson, did bring up something interesting.

He said, do you do something illegal when you know that you're being videotaped by four or five bodycams? I mean, he was sort of saying that Derek Chauvin is aware that his bodycam is on. He's aware that the other officers' bodycams are -- body cameras are on.

And so he was making that point that he wouldn't have been doing something criminal or illegal at that point. What did you think of that argument?

HONIG: I thought that was a decent argument.

Here's my comeback if I'm a prosecutor. He thought he was untouchable. He was arrogant. He thought he would never be held accountable for his actions. Guess what, folks, jury? That's what we're doing here. That's what you're doing here.

BLACKWELL: Can we bring in now Anthony Barksdale, former acting police commissioner of Baltimore?

Let's start here just broadly with your reaction to the defense and the arguments that Eric Nelson is making.

ANTHONY BARKSDALE, FORMER ACTING POLICE COMMISSIONER OF BALTIMORE, MARYLAND: I think that the defense is doing -- doing their very best to distract from the issues.

I, personally, I have made well over 1,000 arrests. And having been a reasonable officer, there was nothing reasonable about keeping a knee on a man's neck, a man that is handcuffed, telling you that he cannot breathe, screaming for his mother, to keep it on the neck and kill him, nothing reasonable at all about it.

CAMEROTA: Commissioner, I'm so glad that you brought that up.

Areva, can you talk about that a little bit? Because we heard, again, the defense attorney, Eric Nelson, say that many times. I mean, it became a catchphrase that he was using, reasonable police officer. Would a reasonable police officer do this? Any reasonable police officer.

It was like he was sort of planting that phrase into the jurors' heads. What did you think about the use of that?

MARTIN: Yes, I think he overused it.

And I think jurors, again, they're going to hearken back to the testimony that they heard throughout this trial. And they're going to think about their own encounters with police and what they know generally about policing. And I think everyone is going to be asking themselves, if this is the conduct of a reasonable police officer, then what does the conduct of an unreasonable police officer look like?


Because we know, in this case, this conduct that you want us to believe is reasonable resulted in the death of a man who we saw minutes before the encounter, who was acting completely normal, who seemed to have no health issues, and was not in any distress.

So, I think it's going to backfire on them.

BLACKWELL: You know, what we heard from the lead prosecutor, Steve Schleicher, during his closing argument was trying to separate Derek Chauvin from policing, separate Derek Chauvin from the Minneapolis Police Department, and the affinity some jurors may have for supporting police officers.

Here's an example of that:


STEVE SCHLEICHER, MINNESOTA PROSECUTOR: This case is called the State of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin. This case is not called the State of Minnesota vs. the Police. It is not.

Policing is a noble profession. And it is a profession. You met several Minneapolis police officers during this trial. You met them. They took the stand. They testified. Make no mistake. This is not a prosecution of the police. It is a prosecution of the defendant.

And there's nothing worse for good police than a bad police who doesn't follow the rules, who doesn't follow procedure, who doesn't follow training, who ignores the policies of the department, the motto of the department, to protect with courage, to serve with compassion.


BLACKWELL: Elie, he went on to say that Chauvin is not on trial for who he was. He's on trial for what he did.

It is rare for police officers to be charged, even more rare for them to be convicted. The strategy you're seeing from the state, and do you think that they have been effective in their execution?

HONIG: I thought that was brilliantly done right there.

One of the key things you want to do as a prosecutor is take the energy out of things that may work against you here. And I thought the prosecutor did a really good job, saying: This is not us vs. the police. This is not us vs. good police or bad police. This is about Derek Chauvin, what he did right there really to disgrace the badge.

And I guarantee you, while he was making that speech, what I kept thinking back to was Chief Arradondo, the chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, who took the stand here, testified unequivocally -- and it was a remarkable moment -- that what Derek Chauvin did was excessive, was unacceptable, violated policy and procedure.

And the contrast there, I think, is something that will stick in the jury's minds between what a police officer should be and what Derek Chauvin did to George Floyd.

CAMEROTA: But, Commissioner Barksdale, do you think that, given the backdrop that this is happening in -- I mean, there are -- we have seen since George Floyd's death, obviously, a slew of other police- related killings and shootings and excessive force.

And so do you think that the jurors will be able to separate in their mind, this is just Derek Chauvin vs. what's happening down the road in Brooklyn Center?

BARKSDALE: I pray that they can separate it.

I believe that the prosecution's statement was accurate. This is about his actions that day. And he has to be held accountable. And I think he said something like, believe your eyes. What you saw, you saw.

And we all saw it. And Chauvin's actions ripple across the United States. Every good officer now has to deal with what he did that day. And he's not the kind of cop that any good cop wants working next to him or her. So, I hope he's convicted, buried under the jail. I don't care.

This is not what police stand for.

BLACKWELL: Areva, speaking of separation, what we're hearing from Eric Nelson is -- and I will read you part of his opening statement, so that we can compare that to his closing argument here.

He said that the jury would learn about crowd control, human factors of force, what happens to a police officer when they're involved in a high-stress use-of-force situation.

In some of these elements, it seems as if he's arguing a single variable, that the prone position is not innately dangerous, but takes away the nine minutes and 29 seconds of the weight of another person, that the presence of fentanyl in the system can cause reaction X, without the discussion of element Y.

Do you believe that that is going to be effective? And what's the first thing you hit in rebuttal if you're the state?

MARTIN: Well, let me address Eric Nelson's style.

One of the things he has done throughout this trial, Victor, is, he uses all these hypotheticals, pigs-can-grow-wings-and-fly hypotheticals, and they have nothing to do with the facts of this case.

And Elie has talked about it. The chief has talked about, this whole concept of distraction.


We know, unfortunately, the way our jury system works, and particularly in these cases, all you need is one juror. All you need to do is have that argument about these hypotheticals that aren't related to the facts of this case resonate with one juror, and that one juror won't get you an acquittal, but it can get you to a hung jury, which, in this case, by some standards, would be a victory for Derek Chauvin.

But I think most viewers, all jurors that I have dealt with in my trial experience, they understand that that's legalese. That's what lawyers do. That's what they get paid to do.

And I think the prosecution has done such a good job of keeping them focused on the nine minutes and 29 seconds, and getting them to realize that none of that's relevant until you put the knee on the neck. And that's what you have to stay focused on. Yes, the fentanyl is in his system. It's in small doses, but there's no indication that but for the knee on the neck, he would have died from having fentanyl in his system.

The same with respect to his enlarged heart, the arteries. This was a man who had some preexisting health conditions. But there is no indication that but for his chance encounter with Derek Chauvin, that he would not have survived.

And I think what -- the first thing that Blackwell, who they call the Johnnie Cochran of the Midwest, has to do is take the jurors back to the pivotal piece of evidence in this case, and that is that bystander video, and get them to remain focused on Derek Chauvin's actions on that day, actions which, by any standards, were unreasonable, unlawful and caused the death of George Floyd.

CAMEROTA: Elie, what's going to happen next?

As we have been talking about, the judge sort of intervened and said, we have got to take a break. I have got to let these jurors have lunch.

So, now what?

HONIG: So, hopefully, Eric Nelson will get his thoughts together and finish quickly. He shouldn't have really much left. He's on his final topic of medical causation.

And then we're going to see the prosecution stand up and rebut. If I'm the prosecutor, whenever I was in this position, I didn't want to break after the defense closing. I wanted to hop right up and hit the jury right away to counteract what the defense lawyer had just said.

If I was doing that in this situation, I would start by reminding the jury, you're allowed to use your common sense. The judge just told you that. It's the beauty and the power of our jury system.

And so, if you don't buy this carbon monoxide theory with no evidence, you can throw it. If you don't buy this unruly crowd theory, and I will explain to you why you shouldn't, you can throw it out.

I think that's what the prosecutor has to do, get up, bring the focus right back to the core of this case.

CAMEROTA: Elie, Areva, thank you both very much for all of the insight.

Obviously, we will -- you are going to stick with us, because we're going to call upon you again.

And, Commissioner Barksdale, thank you very much.

So, at this moment, the country is on edge, as the jury in the Derek Chauvin trial will soon begin deliberating.

But, first, the closing argument needs to wrap up, and the rebuttal.

We have details about how the Minneapolis community is preparing for what happens next.