A juror on the chauvin trial speaks out

People gather at the intersection where George Floyd was killed after the verdict in the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was announced in Minneapolis, April 20, 2021. (Photo: NYTimes)
MINNEAPOLIS — Hearing the prosecution’s medical experts, one after the next, testify that a lack of oxygen killed George Floyd was already enough to convince Lisa Christensen that Derek Chauvin was guilty of murder.اضافة اعلان

Then the defense witnesses took to the stand — and they only solidified her confidence in the prosecution’s case.

When one of them, Barry Brodd, a police expert, suggested that someone could rest comfortably in the prone position, face down on the pavement, he lost her, Christensen said. Then came the defense’s medical expert, Dr David Fowler, Maryland’s former chief medical examiner. She did not buy his explanation that a combination of drugs, preexisting medical conditions and even carbon monoxide were to blame for Floyd’s death.

“I just don’t think it was real believable,” Christensen said of the defense’s case. “The prosecutors were true to their opening statements. They said in their opening statements, ‘Believe your eyes. What you see, you can believe.’ And for me, that was true.”

Christensen, 56, had a rare view of the trial of Chauvin: She was one of 14 jurors selected to serve on the case.

For three weeks she sat anonymously in a courtroom on the 18th floor of a courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, referred to only as Juror 96 as she listened to 45 witnesses and the arguments of the lawyers in one of the most consequential police killing cases the country has ever seen.

Ultimately, she did not get to help decide Chauvin’s fate. Once all the testimony and arguments had wrapped up, the judge, Peter Cahill, told her and another juror that they were the alternates. So they were sent home while the remaining 12 were sequestered in a hotel room to deliberate.

But in an interview Thursday, it seemed like Christensen’s view of the case aligned with the rest of the jury, which took just 10 hours to convict Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer, of all three charges he faced in the killing of Floyd, a Black man, including second-degree murder.

None of the jurors who deliberated and decided Chauvin’s fate have chosen to speak out, so Christensen’s description of how she saw the trial is the only insight yet provided into how members of the jury perceived the case.

Christensen, who said she entered the trial having seen very little of the gruesome video of Floyd’s murder, described an experience that was more taxing than she could have imagined. It was filled with unexpected twists, from the mundane — a minicrisis when the Cheetos ran out in the jury room — to the extraordinary, when the police killed a 20-year-old man six blocks from her home in the suburb of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, during the trial.

“It was more emotional and more draining than I thought,” she said of her jury service.

Christensen, who is white, said that while she felt that Chauvin was in the wrong, she did not view the case through the larger prism of racial justice. She believes that there is a problem with racism in the country but said she was not well versed on the nuances of it.

She recently got into a dispute with her roommate, who is Black, when she asked him why Floyd and other people do not just comply with police commands. “Several times they had to say, ‘Get out of the car,’ or, ‘Put your hands on the steering wheel.’ And for whatever reason, he just didn’t do it.” But she said that even if she did not understand Floyd’s resistance, he was treated improperly by the officers.

Her feelings were solidified during the testimony of Dr Martin Tobin, a pulmonologist called by the prosecution. He gave a detailed explanation of how humans breathe, even instructing the jurors to feel different parts of their throat and neck as he testified. He also analyzed Floyd’s breathing from a video that showed Chauvin kneeling on his neck.

“He pointed out exactly when Mr. Floyd took his last breath,” she said. “So that was powerful. And then I feel like all the doctors that the prosecutors presented pretty much said the same thing in so many different ways. I feel like they all came to the same conclusion.”

Asked if there was a moment when she doubted the prosecution’s case and thought that maybe Chauvin was not guilty, Christensen was unequivocal: “No.”

If the medical experts were decisive for her regarding Floyd’s cause of death, Christensen said testimony from bystanders helped her to understand how out of line Chauvin was. Sitting close to the witness box, she teared up at times when witnesses cried as they recalled seeing the life slowly pressed out of Floyd. One moment in particular that got to her, Christensen said, was when a girl on the stand fought back tears, but her chin quivered.

“I was hearing what they were saying, but I also felt it,” she said. “I could feel the guilt. I could feel their pain.”

The bystanders did not seem like an angry mob to her, as Chauvin’s lawyer suggested, Christensen said. Rather, they seemed to have more awareness of the situation than Chauvin and the three other officers involved in Floyd’s fatal arrest.

“How can all these different people stand on the sidewalk and notice there is something wrong in this situation; I mean, even a 9-year-old could tell you something was wrong,” she said. “How come grown officers, that this is your profession, you’ve had multiple hours of being trained, that you guys can’t tell there’s something wrong?”

Christensen said she felt that Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, had made good points about what a “reasonable officer” would do as he explained his client’s actions in the nearly 17 minutes leading up to the moment that he took Floyd to the ground and knelt on him. But it seemed like he could offer no good explanation for Chauvin’s actions in the nine minutes and 29 seconds he knelt on Floyd, she said.

And she did not believe that Chauvin could have explained it away, so she said it was probably a good idea that he did not testify on his own behalf.

“I don’t think he comes across as, like, a likable kind of guy,” she said. “And maybe that’s just because we’ve seen the video so many times and that picture. Him sitting in the courtroom, he just gave off a cold vibe.”

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