Which of the dozen or so big-time attorneys you hired to make sure Derek Chauvin gets convicted do you have make opening arguments? Minnesota Attorney General and Derek Chauvin Special Prosecutor Keith Ellison chose Jerry W. Blackwell to give them. The African-American attorney is an expert civil-defense attorney. His placement here as a prosecutor in a criminal case would be most curious, except he knows juries – and he’s black. He did a middling job as an opener, but he didn’t need to say a single word because he played the video.
“I can’t breathe!”
The video shows George Floyd pleading and begging while Chauvin kneels on him until well after Mr. Floyd is unresponsive. Playing the video at the start of the case and during opening arguments was a masterstroke. If it was Blackwell’s idea, his fee is worth it for that alone. It stays with you. Floyd’s voice, soaked in distress, begs for his mother – begs not to be killed. Overcoming what looks exactly like a man kneeling on another man’s neck, killing him right there in front of the viewer, will be a Herculean effort for the defense.
As if Floyd’s words receding into nothingness weren’t bad enough, there is Chauvin’s demeanor. The bystanders join in – begging, pleading, commanding the police to let up. Their statements help humanize Mr. Floyd and demonize Chauvin in a way prosecutors or trial witnesses never would be able to:
“He is human, bro!”
“You’re f—ing stopping his breathing right there, bro!”
And regarding Chauvin:
“He enjoying that sh–.”
“You enjoying it! Look at you.”
Defending the Indefensible
Eric Nelson was left with little option but to press ahead with a defense opening that encouraged the jury to focus on the reasonable doubt standard. He previewed medical and toxicology reports and testimony to come that would show Floyd died because of his own medical conditions and drug use. After having seen the video so soon before, Nelson’s presentation fell flat. It did not show a confident position for the defense. It’s good for them that trials aren’t won or lost on opening arguments. The trial is scheduled to take a month, and that might not be long enough to overcome what was shown in court Monday, no matter what the medical evidence shows.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.