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Derek Chauvin Trial Officially Begins

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Jeff Wagner, David Schuman and Esme Murphy report on the first official day in the Derek Chauvin trial (7:39). WCCO 4 News At 6 - March 29, 2021

Video Transcript

FRANK VASCELLARO: Here's a live shot of the crowd outside of the Hennepin County Government Center. They are calling for justice as the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer is now underway. It has been 10 months since the death of George Floyd set off protests all around the country.

AMELIA SANTANIELLO: Today the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin began. Jurors heard opening statements from the prosecution and defense attorneys. The state started by showing them the entire video of Chauvin with his knee on George Floyd's neck.

JERRY BLACKWELL: At the end of this case, that you find Mr. Chauvin guilty for his excessive use of force against George Floyd that was an assault that contributed to taking his life and for engaging in imminently dangerous behavior, putting the knee in the neck, the knee on the back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds without regard for Mr. Floyd's life.

AMELIA SANTANIELLO: Derek Chauvin's attorney is asking jurors to use common sense when they consider a medical cause for Floyd's death.

ERIC NELSON: Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career. The use of force is not attractive. But it is a necessary component of policing.

AMELIA SANTANIELLO: We have team coverage of the day's events inside and outside the courtroom. We want to start with Jeff Wagner, who has details of what unfolded in court today. Hi, Jeff.

JEFF WAGNER: Hi, Amelia. You know, in addition to opening statements, the prosecution called its first three witnesses to the stand, with a focus on video of that deadly arrest as evidence, in addition to the witness's testimony. For roughly an hour, prosecutors let off opening statements by humanizing George Floyd.

JERRY BLACKWELL: He was somebody to a lot of other bodies in the world.

JEFF WAGNER: And reinforcing that his death was the result of former officer Derek Chauvin's use of excessive force by kneeling on his neck, the infamous cell phone video playing out in its entirety for the jury.

JERRY BLACKWELL: You can believe your eyes that it's a homicide. It's murder. You can believe your eyes.

JEFF WAGNER: The defense countered by emphasizing Floyd died for different reasons.

ERIC NELSON: The evidence will show that Mr. Floyd died of a cardiac arrhythmia that occurred as a result of hypertension, his coronary disease, the ingestion of methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the adrenaline throwing-- flowing through his body.

JEFF WAGNER: Jena Scurry was the first witness to testify. The 911 dispatcher handled the initial call and watched the arrest unfold from a city surveillance camera. She called a police supervisor when she saw officers pinning Floyd to the ground.

JENNA SCURY: My instincts were telling me that something's wrong. Something was not right. I don't know what, but something wasn't right.

JEFF WAGNER: Next up was Alisha Oyler, who worked at the Speedway gas station at 30th and Chicago. She recorded several cell phone videos of the arrest, showing the agitated crowd gathering near police.

ALISHA OYLER: I always see the police. They're always messing with people. And it's wrong, and it's not right.

JEFF WAGNER: The final witness was Donald Williams, who was in the crowd of people near the arrest. He shared what he saw based on his experience as a mixed martial arts fighter.

DONALD WILLIAMS: Just like in MMA, you can tell when someone gets tired, or you can tell when someone's getting choked out or things like that. His breathing was getting tremendously heavy and tremendously harder for him to breathe. And you actually could hear him. You could see him struggling to actually gasp for air.

JEFF WAGNER: Williams' testimony took an interesting turn. The judge actually paused the questioning, had the jury leave the courtroom because not only is Williams a witness to that deadly arrest. The prosecution is leaning on his expertise as an MMA fighter. They're using his opinions to analyze how Chauvin was handling Floyd. Now, Williams' testimony will continue first thing tomorrow morning.

AMELIA SANTANIELLO: All right. Thank you, Jeff.

FRANK VASCELLARO: Security personnel are on high alert during the trial. Protesters want to show Floyd's family support by calling for racial justice. David Schuman's live in downtown Minneapolis right now. David?

DAVID SCHUMAN: The march is starting here right now, as we speak, after several speakers took the microphone and talked passionately about justice for victims of police violence and accountability for police. They also spoke to a crowd that is standing behind a banner in the street that says "Justice for George Floyd" and "All Stolen Lives." The organizers of this event here have made clear why they're out here protesting. Demanding a conviction of Derek Chauvin with a maximum sentence is first and foremost. There are also bigger picture systemic issues they're protesting for, like passage of police reform legislation and creating a community board to oversee police for greater accountability.

One man said he feels nothing has changed in the last 10 months since Floyd's death. And he wants to know his family will be safe from police. About the trial, one of the organizers said she felt the first day went well for the prosecution. There's a strong sense of unity here, a lot of different groups coming together for this. And in fact, more than 20 Twin Cities organizations came together, teamed up, to put this on.

FRANK VASCELLARO: All right. David, thank you for the update.

AMELIA SANTANIELLO: Only one broadcast reporter's allowed inside the courtroom each day. And that person provides notes for media outlets around the world. Today, WCCO reporter Esme Murphy had that front-row seat. And she joins us right now. Esme, what was the emotion like inside the courtroom today?

ESME MURPHY: It was so tense, Amelia. One of the interesting things that happened today was the playing of that infamous video, that 9 minutes and 29 seconds that Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd's neck. What came clear in jury selection is that most of these jurors, actually all of them, had not seen the entire video before today. One of them hadn't even seen any of it. They'd only seen just small clips.

And you could see as they watched this video-- they were facing directly towards me. You could see their eyes. One of them gripped the hands of their arm rest. Another held her hand over part of her head. You could see that they were-- appeared shaken by this. Again, they had never seen it.

The other thing this video was on four separate screens inside this courtroom blown up. And it didn't lose any resolution. In other words, it was completely clear. You could see the details. You could see George Floyd's eyebrows. You could see his nose. You could see his mouth. And it's a very powerful video because it goes on for so long.

The other thing was how close I was to Derek Chauvin, about eight feet. You could see him turning around consulting with his attorney. He is clearly involved in this case in terms of his own defense. And the prosecution, it's clear that they have a lot of weapons there. You had Jerry Blackwell, a prosecutor who joined the team pro bono, who gave the opening statements today.

So it was a unique view of a scene that is really remarkable that's playing out in front of the world's eyes. And the jurors, I must say, really are a reflection of our entire community, an extremely diverse jury.

AMELIA SANTANIELLO: Esme, what was Derek Chauvin's demeanor when that video was playing? I know that everybody's wearing masks. So you can't really see their expression, but what can you tell us about him?

ESME MURPHY: Well, you know, I could-- I could see it at times because he was wearing a mask, but he was actually looking at the different screens. And I had a screen that was kind of behind me. So he actually pivoted and looked kind of over me towards the screen. So he was just looking at himself with his knee on George Floyd's neck. And then at times he was taking notes. But it was such a sort of surreal scene to see this man look at this video that-- that has horrified so many.

AMELIA SANTANIELLO: All right, Esme, thank you.