The substantive debates begin Monday at the trial of the white police officer accused of killing African-American George Floyd, whose death sparked a huge anti-racist mobilization in the United States, and beyond.
Derek Chauvin, 45, including 19 with the Minneapolis Police Department, is charged with murder and manslaughter. On May 25, he remained kneeling for nearly nine minutes on the neck of the black forty-something, pinned to the ground and handcuffed.
Released on bail, he has appeared free since March 9 in a public building in the large city of the north of the United States, transformed into an entrenched camp for this exceptional trial.
The hearings have so far been exclusively devoted to the selection of jurors, a task which has proved particularly delicate given the extreme media coverage of the case.
Monday at 9:00 am, Derek Chauvin will face this panel which reflects the diversity of the population of Minneapolis, with four black jurors – including two immigrants – and two mixed race.
For three or four weeks, they will hear arguments from both parties, witnesses and experts, before retiring to deliberate. Their verdict is expected in late April or early May.
The twelve jurors will have to rule unanimously, otherwise the trial will be considered null and void. This scenario, or an acquittal, could trigger new riots in Minneapolis, which had already flared up in late May.
The shadow of Rodney King
Conversely, a conviction would be interpreted as a sign of a change in mentalities in the United States, where the very few police officers brought to justice have generally benefited from the leniency of the jurors.
30 years ago, four Los Angeles police officers tried for having beaten the African-American Rodney King had thus emerged free from their trial, despite the existence of a video recording of the violence, which had triggered deadly riots. .
George Floyd’s ordeal was also filmed by a passerby and posted on the internet. The images, bordering on the sustainable, have traveled the world and brought crowds to the streets of New York, Seattle, Paris or Sydney. They should occupy a large trial in the trial of Derek Chauvin.
The comparison ends there, according to lawyer Larry Vogelman who closely followed the 1991 trial. “Fortunately, we are at a different point in American history,” he told AFP, noting that the population is now much more sensitive to the subject of police violence.
Another sign of change: the City of Minneapolis has already agreed to pay $ 27 million in damages to the family of George Floyd to put an end to his civil complaint.
Derek Chauvin’s lawyer sharply criticized the announcement on March 12 of this agreement, which he said could influence jurors.
At the bar, Me Eric Nelson will plead that his client is not guilty. He will assure that the police officer was content to follow authorized procedures to control a recalcitrant suspect and that he is not responsible for the death of George Floyd.
The lawyer will argue that the forty-something died of an overdose of fentanyl, a powerful opioid whose traces were found at the autopsy, and of health problems.
Prosecutors will try to demonstrate that Derek Chauvin has shown contempt for the life of the African-American, by maintaining his pressure even though he has said twenty times “I cannot breathe”, that he is then passed out and his pulse was finally gone.
Pandemic obliges, the trial takes place without an audience but the hearings are broadcast live and many Americans should follow them closely.
Also because of the Covid, the three other police officers involved in the tragedy, Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, will be tried in August for “complicity in murder”.