President Joe Biden on Tuesday called for the “right” verdict in the racially charged trial of an ex-policeman accused of murdering George Floyd and described the case now before a Minneapolis jury as “overwhelming.”
Biden’s unusually strong comments in the White House came on the tense, second day of jury deliberations.
The president stressed that he would not be speaking out if the jury had not been sequestered, meaning that it is isolated from the public until it reaches a decision.
Derek Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter over Floyd’s May 25, 2020 death during an arrest.
The experienced officer, who is white, restrained Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes, even as the handcuffed 46-year-old Black man said repeatedly “I can’t breathe,” then died.
The shocking incident, captured on video by bystanders and repeatedly replayed around the nation, ignited global protests against racial injustice and quickly became seen as a landmark test of US police accountability.
US cities are braced for possible violence, depending on the verdict, and Minneapolis is under an unprecedented security lockdown.
Biden told reporters he had spoken with the Floyd family by telephone and said “I can only imagine the pressure and anxiety they’re feeling. So I waited till the jury was sequestered and I called.”
“They’re a good family and they’re calling for peace and tranquility, no matter what that verdict is,” Biden said.
“I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict which is — I think it’s overwhelming in my view.”
Prosecutors and the defense presented closing arguments on Monday and Judge Peter Cahill sent the case to the seven-woman, five-man jury.
The racially diverse group is being sequestered during deliberations and their identities will not be known until afterward.
In his final instructions to the jury, the judge noted the gravity of the case, which comes amid heightened tensions fueled by other police killings.
“You must not let bias, prejudice, passion, sympathy or public opinion influence your decision,” Cahill said. “You must not consider any consequences or penalties that might follow from your verdict.”
A unanimous verdict is required for conviction on any of the charges — second-degree murder, third-degree murder or manslaughter.
Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, faces a maximum of 40 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, the most serious charge.
Three other former police officers involved in Floyd’s deadly arrest — he had allegedly just tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill in a store — are to go on trial later this year.
National Guard deployed
Amid fears of unrest, National Guard troops have been deployed in Minneapolis and Washington, the nation’s capital.
Minneapolis has been the scene of nightly protests since Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot dead in a suburb of the Minnesota city on April 11 by a white policewoman.
Some 400 protesters marched through the city on Monday calling for Chauvin’s conviction, chanting: “The world is watching, we are watching, do the right thing.”
In Washington, the National Guard said some 250 troops were being deployed “to support local law enforcement” in response to potential demonstrations.
Prosecutors, in closing arguments on Monday, showed excerpts from the harrowing bystander video of Floyd’s death that was seen by millions around the world.
“This case is exactly what you thought when you saw it first, when you saw that video,” prosecutor Steve Schleicher told the jury.
“You can believe your eyes,” Schleicher said. “It’s exactly what you knew, it’s what you felt in your gut, it’s what you now know in your heart.”
“This wasn’t policing, this was murder,” Schleicher said. “Nine minutes and 29 seconds of shocking abuse of authority.”
Defense attorney Eric Nelson told the jury they need to look at Chauvin’s actions “from the perspective of a reasonable police officer.”
“He did not purposefully use unlawful force,” Nelson said.
He said Floyd’s heart disease and drug use were factors in his death and “the state has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Much of the three-week trial involved testimony from medical experts about Floyd’s cause of death.
The defense called a retired police officer who said Chauvin’s use of force against Floyd was “justified.”
Police officers testifying for the prosecution — including the Minneapolis police chief — said it was excessive and unnecessary.