‘To the jury, this was a clear cut case’: Criminal defense expert analysis of murder verdict in Chauvin trial

MADISON, Wis. — It took twelve jurors only about ten hours to find former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on three counts of murder and manslaughter for pinning George Floyd to the ground with his knee while he struggled to breathe.

The relatively quick decision and verdicts come after Minnesota prosecutors urged the jury to essentially “believe their eyes” as they watched the video that captured the incident in its entirety. In a statement, Wisconsin’s top law enforcement official said the verdict meant accountability.

“As I said last year, what we saw on the video of the events leading to George Floyd’s death was not law enforcement,” said Attorney General Kaul in a prepared statement. “Derek Chauvin was not protecting or serving the residents of Minneapolis. He was committing a horrific crime.”

Veteran criminal defense attorney Chris Van Wagner has seen his share of jury trials, and said the short length of time jurors deliberated was a clear indication of the unanimity of the decision.

“To the jury, this was a clear cut case; the evidence was not much in dispute, from their perspective,” he said after watching the verdicts read. “The fact they did not enter a not-guilty verdict on any of the lesser charges is very significant in my mind, because what they’re saying is ‘We did not have a big argument. We were not at odds. We thought the evidence was very strong.'”

Strong–even overwhelming evidence on all counts in the jurors’ eyes, he said. All three verdicts are likely to be challenged, Van Wagner noted, but a guilty verdict on each charge means the evidence for each one would have to be separately challenged and appealed.

The jury of six whites and six Black or multiracial people came back with its verdict after about 10 hours of deliberations over two days. The now-fired white officer was found guilty as charged of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Having invoked the Fifth Amendment earlier in the trial, he barely reacted as the verdict was read.

“He went into this knowing…that the odds were stacked against him,” Van Wagner said. “An officer’s own survival instincts require that they not display emotion, and he clearly had martialed them today.”

Madison and Wisconsin leaders responded to the verdict Tuesday with relief and celebration, while also noting that the movement to address racial disparities in policing and excessive use of force was only just beginning.