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George Floyd trial starts

George Floyd trial starts
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell makes opening arguments in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, March 29, 2021 (Reuters)

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MINNEAPOLIS – Former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin squeezed the life out of George Floyd while joining other officers in arresting him last May, a prosecutor told jurors in his opening statement at Chauvin’s murder trial in a heavily fortified courthouse on Monday.

Chauvin’s lead attorney, Eric Nelson, said in his opening statement that the former officer followed his police training.

Jerry Blackwell, a prosecutor with the Minnesota attorney general’s office, told jurors that officers who wear the Minneapolis police badge pledge to never use “unnecessary force or violence”.

“You will learn that on May 25, Mr Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of George Floyd,” said Blackwell, who addressed the jury for just shy of an hour.

He displayed a still image from a bystander’s cellphone video of Chauvin, who his white, with his knee on the neck of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in handcuffs, saying it showed Chauvin “grinding and crushing him until the very breath – no, ladies and gentlemen – the very life was squeezed out of him.”

Floyd’s death ignited a global protest movement over police brutality against Black people. In the preceding two weeks of jury selection, many jurors told Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill and the lawyers on each side that they recognised the scrutiny their deliberations would come under, not least by those who view the trial as a reckoning for how Black people are policed in the United States.

“It’s been a long time coming,” a gospel choir sang on Sunday evening at a euphoric prayer service attended by Floyd’s relatives at a church a few blocks east of the deadly arrest. “But I know a change is gonna come.”

Philonise Floyd, a brother of George Floyd, said before the service began that he had faith that Chauvin would be convicted.

“The video is the proof,” he said.

Prosecutors played the most widely seen bystander video to jurors on Monday. Chauvin, dressed in a gray suit, a blue face mask and a blue shirt and tie, took pages of notes on a yellow legal pad as the dying moans of Floyd and the yelling of horrified onlookers filled the courtroom.

Chauvin, 45, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, with his lawyers arguing that he followed his training and that the main cause of Floyd’s death, which the county examiner ruled a homicide, was a drug overdose.

He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge. The Minneapolis Police Department fired Chauvin and the three other officers involved the day after the arrest. (Reuters)