The George Floyd murder trial: the justice system worked–this time…

Attorney David BetrasAs a criminal defense attorney, I watched with great interest the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd.

Here are my thoughts on the case that has mesmerized the nation and the world since May 25, 2020.

The visual evidence secured the conviction. Creating reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror is a defense attorney’s No. 1 task. In this case, the astounding amount of video and audio evidence available to the prosecution made that task extremely difficult if not virtually impossible.

The cellphone video of Mr. Floyd’s killing captured by Darnella Frazier combined with newly released police body camera footage painted a stark and irrefutable picture of the incident. The defense attorney would have lost all credibility with the jury if he had asked them to disbelieve what they were seeing with their own eyes and hearing with their own ears: the defendant’s knee squarely planted on Mr. Floyd’s neck, the look of utter disdain on the officer’s face, Mr. Floyd’s pleas for his life and the defendant’s derisive and snide replies.

The defense attorney could not afford to lose all credibility with the jurors because he needed at least one of them to buy into the arguments he made on his client’s behalf.

First, he claimed that Mr. Floyd died because of the drugs in his system and because of his diseased heart — rather than the knee on his neck. In the practice of  law, this is known as the principle of causation and it was a dead-end for the defense because the prosecution had effectively proven that “but for” the actions of the officer Mr. Floyd would still be alive.

Next, he contended that the members of the crowd who were begging for Mr. Floyd’s life were at fault because the defendant felt threatened and turned his attention away from the person he was obviously killing — even though he could clearly be heard talking to Mr. Floyd while he had him pinned to the ground.

Finally, he said the defendant’s use of force was justified because he could not control Mr. Floyd, a statement directly contradicted by both the video evidence and the numerous law enforcement officials and experts who testified the officer’s actions were excessive and unjustified.

The jury did its job. In an earlier column, I said I was confident extensive voir dire had yielded an impartial jury capable of reviewing the evidence and rendering a just verdict. I believe the diverse group of 12 men and women who sat in judgment of what is undoubtedly the case of the 21st century did exactly that.

The system worked — this time.

That outcome would have been tragic for Mr. Floyd’s family and our nation.