Highlights from Chauvin trial's dramatic first week


The first week of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is charged with murdering George Floyd, was full of gripping and emotional eyewitness testimony, with 19 people taking the stand in the first five days.

Graphic footage of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for roughly nine minutes shocked the country and the world last summer, catalyzing protests decrying police brutality and systemic racism.

The former police officer faces three criminal counts: second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Expected to last up to four weeks, the murder trial is the most high-profile case in recent memory.

After adjourning after only a half day of testimony on Friday, the court is expected to resume the case Monday morning.

Here’s what you need to know about the beginning of the trial, and what to look for in the week ahead.

Standout witnesses

The first three days of the trial were dominated by the heavy testimony of bystanders who witnessed Chauvin kneel on Floyd’s neck the night of May 25. 

Five witnesses were under the age of 20, with four of them being minors at the time of Floyd’s death. As a result, their faces were omitted from cameras while testifying. 

The presence of survivor’s guilt has been strong among those who have testified.

“I was upset because there was nothing that we could do as bystanders except watch them take this man's life in front of our eyes,” 18-year-old Alyssa Funari, who was one of the people who recorded the incident, told the court Tuesday.

“If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided,” 19-year-old Christopher Martin said Thursday, referring to a counterfeit bill that led police to be called to the corner of 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis.

The teenager was working at Cup Foods, the convenience store on that corner, where Floyd was put into custody. Martin sold Floyd a pack of cigarettes, but instantly realized that the bill was counterfeit. This led to a pair of attempts by Martin and his coworkers to try and get Floyd, who was in his vehicle across the street from the store, to come back in and pay with legitimate currency.

After failing to get Floyd or one of the other two passengers in his car to come back inside, the store called the police.

Christopher E. Brown, a D.C.-based attorney who recently won a police excessive force case, told The Hill on Friday afternoon that the testimony from 33-year-old Donald Williams, an eyewitness, and Lt. Richard Zimmerman of the Minneapolis Police Department both stood out to him.

Williams began his testimony late Monday afternoon and finished Tuesday morning.

During his testimony, he noted his extensive experience with wrestling and mixed martial arts. To him, what Chauvin did to Floyd looked like a “blood choke.”

“Blood choke” is a less formal name for a carotid hold — a chokehold that cuts off blood supply from the brain by placing pressure on either or both sides of a person’s neck where the carotid arteries are located.

Williams’s testimony was the first to tangentially get at a huge crux of what the prosecution must prove to the jury: That Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes led to his death.

The autopsy report from the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office stated that Floyd died of “cardiopulmonary arrest [the stopping of both the heart and lungs] complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”

Chauvin defense attorney Eric Nelson in his opening argument sought to argue that Floyd did not die from the hold. He said that Floyd died from “a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, coronary disease ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the adrenaline throwing, flowing through his body, all of which acted to further compromise an already compromised heart.”

Brown, however, said that argument was made more difficult by some of the testimony.

The “MMA fighter, I thought, was great, even though the defense tried so badly to point out the language he was using to address Chauvin” Brown said.

During his cross-examination, Williams pushed back at Nelson’s line of questioning multiple times, arguing he was not angry as he accosted police for their treatment of Floyd, but was acting professionally.

In footage, Williams can be heard hurling insults at Chauvin as he kneels on Floyd’s neck and former officer Tou Thou who was also on the scene.

On Friday, Zimmerman, the longest tenured officer on the force, characterized Chauvin’s use of force on Floyd as “totally unnecessary,” adding that he had never received training from the department to kneel on someone’s neck while they were handcuffed and on the ground prone.

“He’s received the same training as Chauvin … there's no way around that,” Brown said. “[The defense] can say what they want … it's going to be tough for them to push back on that testimony.”

What to watch for

Arguably the most important witness yet to testify for the prosecution is MPD Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. 

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell previewed Arradondo’s testimony on the trial’s first day, telling the jury that law enforcement official “will not mince any words.”

It’s rare to see police officers testify against other police officers in cases like this, let alone head of the force.

“They don't want to be associated with this,” Brown explained. It’s “a huge boon for the prosecution.”

There is a strong possibility that Arradondo, 56, will take the stand Monday.

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