A former Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd “until the very life was squeezed out of him”, a jury has been told.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told jurors that Derek Chauvin “didn’t let up, he didn’t get up” even after Mr Floyd said 27 times that he could not breathe and went motionless.
“He put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him, until the very breath, no ladies and gentlemen, until the very life, was squeezed out of him,” Mr Blackwell said.
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He said bystander witnesses would include a Minneapolis Fire Department officer who wanted to administer aid.
He said Chauvin pointed Mace at her.
Shortly after the opening, jurors were shown the full video of the arrest of Mr Floyd which was shared around the world and sparked months of protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
The volume was raised to help the jurors hear what was being said.
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In the disturbing footage, bystanders can be heard telling the police to get off Mr Floyd.
And when he stopped making a noise, witnesses can be heard saying “he is not responsive right now” and calling for officers to check his pulse.
All this time Chauvin is still kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck.
The 46-year-old was declared dead after Chauvin, who is white, kept his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck as he lay handcuffed on his belly on the pavement.
Eric Nelson, who is representing the former officer, used his 25-minute opening statement to describe Mr Floyd’s drug use, his underlying health problems and a chaotic scene during the arrest.
He said police were called after Mr Floyd paid for a packet of cigarettes with a fake $20 bill and that a struggle began as they tried to arrest him.
It was at that point when Chauvin and his partner arrived.
“Derek Chauvin did exactly what he was trained to do over the course of his 19-year career,” he told the jury.
“The use of force is not attractive but it is a necessary component of policing.”
Following the incident, Mr Nelson said Mr Floyd was taken to a separate location in order to try to resuscitate him because of the size of the crowd present.
He said the screaming of bystanders ended up “causing the officers to divert their attention from the care of Mr Floyd”.
And the lawyer added that the only post-mortem carried out – which was done by Dr Andrew Baker of Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office – found none of the “tell-tale signs of asphyxiation”.
Chauvin’s lawyers have argued that the main cause of Mr Floyd’s death was a drug overdose.
Mr Nelson said Mr Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system and that his drug use combined with his heart disease and high blood pressure, as well as the adrenaline flowing through his body, caused his death from a heart rhythm disturbance.
Mr Blackwell earlier warned the jury to ignore defence arguments that Mr Floyd’s death was caused by an opioid overdose.
He told the jury that someone overdosing on fentanyl would not be unconscious and not “screaming for their mother”.
“That’s not what an opioid overdose looks like,” he said.
Jena Scurry, a police 911 dispatcher who was working at the time of Mr Floyd’s death, was the first witness to be called.
She told the court she thought her screen had frozen when she saw how long police had been on top of Mr Floyd while watching live video footage from a police camera.
She said her instincts told her something was wrong – including the amount of time that police had been in the position they were and the fact they had not asked for backup.
Ms Scurry, talking to a prosecutor, says she called a sergeant – the supervisor for the officers – and during this conversation can be heard saying “you can call me a snitch if you want”.
The killing of Mr Floyd has drawn international attention and continues to see regular protests in the city.
The courthouse has been heavily fortified and 2,000 members of the National Guard will be mobilised by the time of the verdict.
Ben Crump, the lawyer representing the Floyd family, spoke in Minneapolis ahead of the trial, saying that “the world is watching”.
The trial is expected to last around four weeks, which Mr Crump said would be a “long, four-week journey to justice” for the relatives of Mr Floyd.
He says the trial will show if the US lives up to the Declaration of Independence – that all men are created equal.
‘George Floyd was living and breathing just fine until the police put a knee on his neck.’
Floyd family lawyer, Benjamin Crump says ‘today starts a landmark trial that will be a referendum on how far America has come in its quest for equality’.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 29, 2021
A jury of 14 people will hear the case, eight who are white and six who are black or multiracial, according to the court.
Two of the 14 will be alternates.
Alternates are selected in some cases to take the place of jurors who may become ill or be discharged during the trial.
They hear the evidence just as the other jurors do, but they do not participate in the deliberations unless they replace an original juror.
The judge has not said which ones will be alternates and which ones will deliberate the case.
Chauvin, 45, is charged with unintentional second degree murder, third degree murder and manslaughter.
Unintentional second degree murder is punishable by up to 40 years in prison in Minnesota, with up to 25 years for third degree murder, but sentencing guidelines suggest that Chauvin would face 12 and a half years in prison if convicted on either charge.
Manslaughter has a maximum 10-year sentence.
The key questions at trial will be whether Chauvin caused Mr Floyd’s death and whether his actions were reasonable.
For the unintentional second-degree murder charge, prosecutors have to prove Chauvin’s conduct was a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death, and that Chauvin was committing felony assault at the time.
For third-degree murder, they must prove that Chauvin’s actions caused Mr Floyd’s death, and were reckless and without regard for human life.
The manslaughter charge requires proof that Chauvin caused Mr Floyd’s death through negligence that created an unreasonable risk.