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Jurors in Chauvin trial deliberate; Biden hopes for ‘right verdict’

Demonstrators march through downtown after the closing statements in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who is facing murder charges in the death of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., April 19, 2021.
REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

Jurors deliberated for a second day on Tuesday in the trial of former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin on murder and manslaughter charges in the deadly arrest of George Floyd, while U.S. President Joe Biden said he spoke with Floyd’s family.

With the jurors now sequestered, Biden told reporters at the White House that he was praying for the “right verdict” in the most high-profile U.S. case involving accusations of police misconduct in decades.

As Minneapolis braced for a verdict, the 12 sequestered jurors considered three weeks of testimony from 45 witnesses, including bystanders, police officials and medical experts, along with hours of video evidence. The courthouse is surrounded by high barricades and guarded by National Guard troops.

Chauvin, who is white, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree “depraved mind” murder and second-degree manslaughter.

In an arrest captured on video, Chauvin pushed his knee into the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old handcuffed Black man, for more than nine minutes outside a grocery store where Floyd had been accused of buying cigarettes with a fake $20 bill last May.

The jury began deliberations on Monday after listening to closing arguments for most of the day. Jurors must reach a unanimous verdict on each charge to convict or acquit. A single hold-out would result in a mistrial, although the state could then try Chauvin again.

Floyd’s relatives, many of them traveling from Texas, have taken turns sitting in a single chair reserved for them in the courtroom.

Biden said he spoke by phone with members of Floyd’s family. The president said he would not have mentioned the call publicly if a family member had not made it public.

“They’re a good family, and they’re calling for peace and tranquility, no matter what that verdict is,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict, which is – I think it’s overwhelming in my view.”

Angela Harrelson, an aunt of Floyd, wrote in a text message that the family was “waiting nervously” for the verdict.

Many downtown businesses have boarded up their windows for fear of a repeat of the violent street clashes that unfolded last year after Floyd’s death between police in riot gear and protesters, some of whom set fire to a police precinct house and damaged nearby property.

The case hinges on whether the jury agrees with prosecutors that the evidence shows Chauvin used excessive, and therefore illegal, force that killed Floyd. The defense has countered that Chauvin behaved as any “reasonable police officer” would, and sought to raise doubts about the cause of Floyd’s death, saying heart disease or even the exhaust fumes from the nearby police car may have been factors.

All three charges require that jurors find that Chauvin’s acts were a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death, but none require that they find he intended to kill Floyd.

The jury is comprised of four white women, two white men, three Black men, one Black woman and two multiracial women, according to court records.

The court has promised to shield their identities until some time after they give their verdict and has sequestered them in a hotel outside of deliberating hours. Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill told the jury it can set its own deliberation schedule in consultation with him, the court said. It deliberated for four hours on Monday and resumed on Tuesday morning.

Fresh protests broke out last week in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center after a white police officer fatally shot a Black motorist, Daunte Wright, on April 11 in a traffic stop. In the nightly rallies that followed, some protesters have thrown plastic water bottles over a fence at police, and police have fired chemical irritants and rubber bullets into the crowd, bloodying both protesters and journalists.

U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Democrat who represents Brooklyn Center, spoke on Tuesday at the site where Wright was killed, calling the incident “state-sanctioned violence” and demanding an overhaul of U.S. policing.

“Our communities are tired and exhausted with this repeated offense and assault that continues to happen where we continue to find ourselves in the state of mourning,” Omar said.

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