In this screen grab from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, defendant and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, right, and Nelson's assistant Amy Voss, back.
( Court TV, via AP, Pool
Rebeca: I am Rebeca Ibarra filling in for Tanzina Vega and you're listening to The Takeaway. The trial of Derek Chauvin began this week and it's had an emotional start.
Darnella Frazier: It's been nights I stayed up apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more
Rebeca: That was Darnella Frazier, the young witness who recorded the now famous video of George Floyd's death. Chauvin is facing three charges. Second-degree, unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. His trial is expected to go for four weeks with the jury expected to begin deliberating in late April or early May. Joining us to go through what we've heard this week is Brandt Williams, correspondent for Minnesota Public Radio News, covering public safety, criminal justice and racial disparities. Brandt, welcome back to The Takeaway.
Brandt Williams: I'm glad to be here.
Rebeca: Let's start with the first day. How did the prosecution present their opening statements?
Brandt Williams: The prosecution started by laying out their strategy to basically base their case on a couple of different major elements. They're going to use medical experts, use of force experts, and rely on that video. They're going to use their medical experts to show that Floyd died because he couldn't breathe and that he didn't die from a drug overdose.
They're going to use these use of force experts are going to show that Derek Chauvin did not follow the way police officers are trained to handle these types of situations and he also laid out that they're going to rely on the video, which of course, many of us who've seen and many of us can't unsee that's going to play a major part in this case.
Rebeca: Yes. You mentioned drug overdose, tell us how the defense tried to present what happened that day in Minneapolis.
Brandt Williams: The defense attorney, Eric Nelson laid out a case that he said will point to medical evidence, which will show that George Floyd did not die from a positional asphyxia caused by the force used by Derek Chauvin. They're going to go to evidence that will show that Floyd had a history of hypertension and heart troubles that were complicated by his ingestion of drugs and he said, basically, it acted to further compromise in already compromised heart, so that is going to be at the heart of their case.
Rebeca: The first day, a 911 dispatcher testified, tell us what she said.
Brandt Williams: She told the court and the jurors about basically what she saw on that day as she was doing her job. She was dispatching calls in the background at the center where she works, she mentioned that there was a video screens and she could see officers there at the scene and she told the jurors that she was concerned because it was taking so long, that there was this incident happening and so she actually called a sergeant to let the sergeant know that it appeared that there was a use of force incident happening and that he should know about it.
Rebeca: Some of the witnesses this week have had to have their identities hidden because of their age. Tell us about these young witnesses and the testimony they provided.
Brandt Williams: Right. The judge said because these young people were minors at the time last year, two of them are now 18, but there are a couple that are still minors. He allowed basically that we could hear their voices, but not see them and we would only know them by their first names. This, of course, as you can imagine, this was very emotional testimony that young people seeing somebody losing their life right in front of them.
One of those, of course, was Darnella Frazier, who we now know because she's a young woman who posted that viral video and she described what it was like for her seeing George Floyd on the ground and the feeling of helplessness. She felt a sense of responsibility or guilt that she didn't do anything more to help him and she said to the jurors that at night, she would apologize to George Floyd saying, "I wish I could have done more for you."
Rebeca: Brandt, there was also another witness who testified, an off-duty firefighter who was present at the scene. What happened when she took the stand?
Brandt Williams: We're talking about Genevieve Hansen. She was an off-duty firefighter who had just happened upon the scene. She had some very powerful testimony. She is an EMT. She's been trained how to identify people who are in medical distress and things that you can do to help someone. She testified that she had this feeling of frustration and helplessness that she felt like she could help.
She was telling the officers that this man appears to be in distress and told them you need to get him some help. In her testimony, I think was very strong in that she was someone who had the experience and knowledge that could have stepped in and done something. She broke down. She cried on the stand because as she said, she felt very frustrated and very helpless.
Rebeca: There was also testimony from the store clerk who interacted with Floyd before his death. What did the store clerk have to say about their interaction?
Brandt Williams: This young man, a 19-year-old man named Christopher Martin. He said that he interacted with George Floyd in the store and at the time they played some of that store videos, you could see George Floyd walking through the store. There was no audio, but you could see him alive and walking around and that was a point where one of the pool reporters in the courtroom said they noticed jurors really paying close attention to this. Seeing George Floyd interact.
Christopher Martin said it appeared that George Floyd was high on something he didn't know but he said he was nice, he was cordial. Christopher Martin said that he got this $20-bill and at first he thought, okay, this looks like it's a fake bill. He said he wrestled with the idea of should he tell somebody about it or should he just accept it and eat it? But he did tell his manager and that led to the back and forth. He was told to go out and tell George Floyd to come back in the store.
Mr. Martin just said during his testimony that after seeing what happened to George Floyd after that, that he felt some sense of guilt and responsibility. He felt like if he hadn't made a big deal about the $20 bill that this wouldn't have happened at all. I think that may have been some powerful testimony seeing this young man dealing with these feelings of guilt.
Rebeca: For the first time we got to see yesterday body camera footage from Chauvin himself, Brandt, what did we learn from that?
Brandt Williams: That video was very illustrative of the scene. You got a sense of it's that hand-to-hand combat, close quarters struggling with George Floyd. You can hear more detail of George Floyd's pleading for, he said, "I can't breathe", and kept pleading and pleading. We're right there hearing-- You can almost feel his breath as the struggle goes on and these officers are trying to get him onto the ground and keep him down.
You can see the muscles in his arms straining against the holds that the officers are putting on him. We have a pool reporter that we share who was in the courtroom, who was watching as Rodney Floyd, one George Floyd's brothers was shaking his head and reacting in a way that he was very upset by looking at this. That was very impactful testimony, the video.
Rebeca: Lastly, Brandt, what can we expect to see in the coming days for the trial?
Brandt Williams: As we mentioned, the prosecution is going to be relying on a bunch of different types of evidence in their case. At some point, we're going to start to see-- I imagine police use of force experts who are going to be able to testify about the actions that Chauvin and the other officers took because the state is trying to show that Chauvin was not following police protocols and was actually endangering the life of George Floyd by putting his knee into him for that long.
Rebeca: Brandt Williams is a correspondent for Minnesota Public Radio News, covering public safety, criminal justice, and racial disparities. Brandt, thank you so much for joining us.
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