Prosecutors play disturbing video of George Floyd's final minutes as Derek Chauvin's murder trial opens
Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this story misreported the placement of Derek Chauvin's hands as he kneeled on George Floyd.
MINNEAPOLIS – Prosecutors opened their case in the murder trial against Derek Chauvin by showing jurors the disturbing video depicting the former police officer kneeling on George Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes.
The video, lasting 9 minutes and 29 seconds, played on several screens in the courtroom, complete with audio of Floyd gasping, "I can't breathe" 27 times and witnesses growing angry as they urged Chauvin to get off Floyd's neck.
Chauvin, who is white, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd, a Black man.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said Chauvin "put his knees upon his (Floyd's) neck and his back, grinding and crushing him until the very breath ... until the very life was squeezed out of him."
The case is not about the difficult "split-second decisions police must make," Blackwell said. "There are 569 seconds, not a split-second among them."
The video, which sparked nationwide protests over racism and police brutality, is expected to be a key piece of evidence. Blackwell said it would be important for the jury to understand what happened in those 9 minutes and 29 seconds – "the most important numbers you will hear in this trial."
In his opening statement, lead defense attorney Eric Nelson told jurors the evidence in the case is "far greater than 9 minutes and 29 seconds." He described a scene in which Floyd was on drugs and resisting arrest.
Prosecutor: Floyd was unresponsive for half of the video
Floyd pleaded for his life for 4 minutes and 45 seconds, Blackwell said. He was unresponsive for the final 4 minutes and 44 seconds.
The jurors listen attentively as Blackwell laid out a timeline of the video, pointing to when bystanders attempted to intervene and when Floyd spoke his last words.
Blackwell then played the video, which was captured by a bystander and shared on social media. Itshows Chauvin with a hand resting on his leg, pressing his knee into Floyd's neck as he is handcuffed face down behind a police car.
Blackwell described Floyd pleading with Chauvin, calling out for his mother, saying he's in pain and asking officers to tell his children he loves them. At one point, Blackwell said, Floyd tries to lift his right shoulder so that he can "get room for his ribcage to expand."
One juror drew a sharp breath as Floyd said, "I can't breathe, everything hurts." Another, a grandmother in her sixties, stared intently at the video, brow furrowed. Another juror, a nurse, watched with her eyes wide and briefly gripped the armrest of her chair.
During jury selection, several of the jurors said they'd seen only part of the video. One, a grandmother in her 60s, said she had probably watched it on her own “for four or five minutes” before turning it off. “It just wasn’t something I needed to see,” she said.
Jury consultant says video will likely have an impact
Cynthia Cohen, a jury consultant at Verdict Success in Los Angeles, said the bystander video would likely have a strong effect on jurors, particularly coming at the start of the trial.
"You want to get the strongest evidence out front, and that's exactly what they did," said Cohen, referring to prosecutors. "I think when you see something or hear something from beginning to end, the defense has a hard time countering that."
The bystanders seen and heard in the video "made it very real," she said.
Over the course of the first 4 minutes and 45 seconds, Floyd's voice gets heavier, his words become further apart and his breathing gets shallower before he utters his final words, Blackwell said.
After Floyd utters his last words, Blackwell said Floyd was virtually motionless for 53 seconds, except for sporadic, involuntary movements which the attorney described as seizures.
The prosecutor said what sounded like Floyd gasping for breath was "agonal breathing," an involuntary reflex that occurs when someone is in medical distress due to oxygen deprivation.
Chauvin didn't visibly react to the video as it played in the courtroom, looking up at the screen periodically and taking notes.
Bystanders try to intervene
As the video goes on, bystanders become more insistent and call on the officers to check Floyd's pulse. In the final 3 minutes and 51 seconds, Blackwell said, Chauvin continues to kneel on Floyd's neck despite being told twice Floyd does not have a pulse.
Some of the bystanders approach Chauvin. He draws something from his belt, causing one of the bystanders to warn, “He’s got Mace.” Officer Tou Thao stands between the onlookers and Chauvin, urging them to stay back.
“He ain’t fine,” one person shouts to the officers before repeatedly calling Chauvin a “bum” and saying he’s “enjoying what’s happening.”
Chauvin "does not let up and he does not get up" from Floyd's neck even after an ambulance arrives on the scene, Blackwell said. Chauvin then gets up and "unceremoniously" drags Floyd's body onto a stretcher, more than four minutes after he stopped responding, Blackwell said.
If convicted of the most serious charge, Chauvin could face 10½ years to 15 years in prison under sentencing guidelines for first-time offenders. The three other officers involved face charges of aiding and abetting the crimes Chauvin is charged with. They go on trial in April.
Contributing: Kevin McCoy, Grace Hauck and Tami Abdollah, USA TODAY
Follow N'dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg