Lawyers Present Case in George Floyd Killing

The murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer, begins today in Minneapolis. Here’s the latest on the trial, including how to watch.,

LiveUpdated March 29, 2021, 10:50 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:50 a.m. ET

The murder trial of the former police officer begins Monday in Minneapolis, 10 months after Mr. Floyd’s death set off protests across the nation.

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The trial begins for Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer facing charges of manslaughter, second-degree murder and third-degree murder in the death of George Floyd.CreditCredit…Pool Photo, via Court TV
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March 29, 2021, 10:49 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:49 a.m. ET

The lawyer making opening arguments for the prosecution is Jerry W. Blackwell, a lawyer who has represented a series of large companies and joined the attorney general’s office just for this case on a pro bono basis, meaning he will not be paid.

In private practice, Mr. Blackwell has represented corporations including Walmart, 3M Company and General Mills, according to the website for his firm, Blackwell Burke, which is based in Minnesota. He has defended companies against lawsuits by people who said they were injured by asbestos, benzene and other potentially harmful chemicals. He has also represented companies in cases involving claims of false advertising.

Mr. Blackwell is known for his ability to untangle complicated legal issues for jurors, the website says, which could be vital in the prosecution of Mr. Chauvin, where jurors will have to evaluate the elements of second-degree and third-degree murder.

Last June, Mr. Blackwell won a posthumous pardon for Max Mason, a Black circus worker who was wrongly convicted of rape in 1920, months after three of his colleagues were lynched as a result of the false accusations. Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general overseeing the prosecution of Mr. Chauvin, had encouraged Mr. Blackwell to apply for the pardon, and he brought him on board for the Chauvin trial a month later.

Mr. Blackwell earned his law degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1987, his website says, and was one of the founders of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers.

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March 29, 2021, 10:48 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:48 a.m. ET

Shaila Dewan

Reporting from Minneapolis

I’ve already lost count of how many times the prosecutor has said “9 minutes and 29 seconds.”

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March 29, 2021, 10:49 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:49 a.m. ET

Shaila Dewan

Reporting from Minneapolis

Blackwell is now saying that a police response that’s reasonable in the first minute may not continue to be reasonable in the second, third or fourth minute — in other words, even if Mr. Floyd was resisting, the restraint went on far too long.

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March 29, 2021, 10:44 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:44 a.m. ET

Shaila Dewan

Reporting from Minneapolis

Mr. Blackwell is now making a medical point: Just because you can talk doesn’t mean you are getting enough air. It’s called “agonal breathing.”

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March 29, 2021, 10:42 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:42 a.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from New York

Mr. Blackwell, one of the prosecutors, says the “most important” number jurors will hear in the trial is 9 minutes and 29 seconds, which is the time that Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck. That time is longer than the incorrect time of 8 minutes and 46 seconds that was initially reported and became a rallying cry for protesters.

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March 29, 2021, 10:44 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:44 a.m. ET

Timothy Arango

Reporting from Minneapolis

8:46 remains a protest rallying cry. Last night at a prayer vigil in Minneapolis for the Floyd family, 8:46 was referred to by Benjamin Crump, the Floyd family attorney, as the time Mr. Chauvin kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck.

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March 29, 2021, 10:42 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:42 a.m. ET

Timothy Arango

Reporting from Minneapolis

The first image of Mr. Floyd’s death the prosecution showed was of Mr. Chauvin appearing to look at the bystanders, looking nonchalant. During jury selection, many prospective jurors remarked about the look on Mr. Chauvin’s face, with one saying it was “hateful.”

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March 29, 2021, 10:40 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:40 a.m. ET

Shaila Dewan

Reporting from Minneapolis

Jurors just saw their first glimpse of the video at the center of the case, and the prosecution used their zoom tool to great effect — they started tight on Mr. Chauvin and zoomed out to show him kneeling on Mr. Floyd.

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March 29, 2021, 10:41 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:41 a.m. ET

Shaila Dewan

Reporting from Minneapolis

This came right after the prosecutor, Mr. Blackwell, told jurors that officers take an oath to serve courteously, “never employing unnecessary force or violence.”

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March 29, 2021, 10:39 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:39 a.m. ET
Ben Crump, a lawyer for the family of George Floyd, center, addressing the news media along with other lawyers and family members outside the Hennepin County Government Center on Monday.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for the family of George Floyd, center, addressing the news media along with other lawyers and family members outside the Hennepin County Government Center on Monday.Credit…Jim Mone/Associated Press

A helicopter whirred overhead on a sunny, yet chilly and windy morning on Monday in downtown Minneapolis, where the streets were largely empty and calm ahead of the big trial.

A scrum of reporters gathered on the lawn just south of the courthouse, where members of Mr. Floyd’s family and their lawyers held a news conference ahead of opening statements. Terrence Floyd, one of Mr. Floyd’s brothers, reflected on experiencing the emotions of another high-profile police killing when Sean Bell was fatally shot in Queens, near where Terrence Floyd lived.

“To see no justice in that situation, it made me furious,” Mr. Floyd said, referring to the acquittal of all of the officers in that case. He hoped that things would be different in the case involving the death of his brother.

“They say trust the system,” he said. “Well this is your chance to show us we can trust you.”

In the distance, you could hear the faint chants of a few protesters. Several people lined up behind the Floyd family holding signs of the support.

“We got your back” and “stronger together,” the signs read.

A national guardsman paced in the distance on a balcony outside of the courthouse that overlooked the lawn. There were temporary concrete and metal barricades encircling some of the government buildings downtown, and national guard members stood alongside state police officers. There were also sand-colored armored vehicles sitting outside.

“We need to pray that America can live up to its high ideals,” said Benjamin Crump, a lawyer representing the Floyd family.

At 8:46 a.m., the Floyd family and supporters took a knee for 8 minutes 46 seconds in recognition of the approximate amount of time that Mr. Chauvin knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck.

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March 29, 2021, 10:37 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:37 a.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from New York

“I apologize for talking to you through this plexiglass,” says Jerry W. Blackwell, one of the lawyers with the prosecution, beginning his opening arguments. The court has been outfitted with many Covid-19 precaution measures to allow the trial to move forward.

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March 29, 2021, 10:34 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:34 a.m. ET

Timothy Arango

Reporting from Minneapolis

Jurors are seated one side of the courtroom in a socially distanced manner, in the space normally reserved for spectators. Because of the pandemic, only two spectators are allowed in the courtroom each day: a Floyd family member and a Chauvin family member.

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March 29, 2021, 10:38 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:38 a.m. ET

Timothy Arango

Reporting from Minneapolis

On many days during jury selection, a Floyd family member was in attendance. No one from Mr. Chauvin’s family attended the weeks of jury selection. We don’t know yet who are in the family seats today.

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March 29, 2021, 10:30 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:30 a.m. ET

Shaila Dewan

Reporting from Minneapolis

Judge Cahill has tried as much as possible to keep the publicity, the protests, and the worldwide reaction outside the courtroom. But there’s no doubt about the symbolic stakes here.

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March 29, 2021, 10:28 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:28 a.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from New York

Judge Peter A. Cahill has returned from recess and is now instructing the jurors who are expected to decide the verdict in the case.

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March 29, 2021, 10:25 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:25 a.m. ET
Minnesota National Guard stand guard outside the Hennepin County Government Center before the opening statement of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin on March 29, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Minnesota National Guard stand guard outside the Hennepin County Government Center before the opening statement of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin on March 29, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.Credit…Kerem Yucel/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis Police officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, began in earnest on Monday morning, commencing what is expected to be one of the most closely-followed trials in recent years.

“We’re on the record,” Judge Peter A. Cahill said at about 9 a.m. Central Time before going over a motion and the schedule with prosecutors and Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer.

He said that court will generally begin at 8:30 a.m. each day, with discussions between the lawyers and judge over any legal issues that arise. Then the jury will be brought into the courtroom around 9:30. There will be a one-hour lunch break at 12:30 and the proceedings will generally last until 4:30 p.m., though they could be extended if it allows a witness to finish testifying.

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March 29, 2021, 10:22 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:22 a.m. ET

Timothy Arango

Reporting from Minneapolis

Here is background on the jury and its racial makeup as they enter the courtroom.

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March 29, 2021, 10:11 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:11 a.m. ET

Shaila Dewan

Reporting from Minneapolis

This trial has been moving ahead of schedule, and today is no different — looks like the opening statements will start earlier than expected.

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March 29, 2021, 10:19 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:19 a.m. ET

Timothy Arango

Reporting from Minneapolis

We are in recess for a few minutes, and the jury is expected to be brought in soon. They will be sworn in by the judge and given instructions.

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March 29, 2021, 10:10 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:10 a.m. ET
Derek Chauvin, the former police officer, in a booking photograph at the Ramsey County Detention Center in St. Paul, Minn., last May.
Derek Chauvin, the former police officer, in a booking photograph at the Ramsey County Detention Center in St. Paul, Minn., last May.Credit…Ramsey County Detention Center

Derek Chauvin had been a police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department for more than 19 years before George Floyd’s death. During that time, he was the subject of at least 22 complaints and internal investigations. One of the episodes led to two letters of reprimand — his only formal discipline.

Mr. Chauvin, 44, worked in one of Minneapolis’s busiest precincts on its most difficult shift, from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., long after many officers his age had moved to different positions. He earned several awards, including two medals of valor after separate confrontations in which he shot at suspects, one of whom died.

Mr. Chauvin, who is white, was filmed on May 25 last year holding his knee on the neck of a Black motorist, George Floyd, for more than nine minutes as Mr. Floyd pleaded with him and repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.”

Mr. Chauvin was fired the next day, along with three other officers who had arrived at Cup Foods, a convenience store, after a teenage clerk called 911 to report that Mr. Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill. In October, Mr. Chauvin was freed on bail while awaiting trial, having posted $100,000 through a bail bond agency. He was initially required to remain in Minnesota, but later was allowed to live in any of the four bordering states (Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota) because of concerns for his safety.

In the weeks after Mr. Chauvin was fired, protesters gathered at his house in the St. Paul suburbs, his wife of 10 years filed for divorce. Interviews with his acquaintances depicted him as an awkward and rigid workaholic who had a tendency to overreact.

Examples of Mr. Chauvin’s police work will most likely be presented at his trial. Prosecutors are expected to tell jurors about his arrest of a Black woman who has said that Mr. Chauvin kept his knee on her body while she was handcuffed and facedown on the ground and pleading, “Don’t kill me.”

In another interaction considered relevant, Mr. Chauvin saved a suicidal man’s life by placing him on his side and riding with him to a hospital.

The Police Department commended Mr. Chauvin for the latter action, but prosecutors have argued that it shows he knew it was important to avoid creating breathing problems for people who were restrained.

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March 29, 2021, 10:09 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 10:09 a.m. ET

Timothy Arango

Reporting from Minneapolis

As the first day gets underway, lawyers are arguing a pretrial motion about how the defense can characterize George Floyd’s behavior. The jury has not been brought in to the courtroom yet.

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March 29, 2021, 9:48 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 9:48 a.m. ET

By Andres R. Martinez

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‘I Need Justice for George,’ Floyd’s Brother Says on Eve of Chauvin Trial

George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, and a family lawyer, Ben Crump, spoke in Minneapolis on Sunday night ahead of the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged in George Floyd’s death.

This world is divided. We need to come together. That’s the only way that we will get justice for George. Because I have a big hole right now in my heart. It can’t be patched up. No amount of money that you give, none of that, it can’t patch that. I need justice for George. We need a conviction. Murder is not murder until somebody is charged for it. So, the four officers, they all need to be held accountable. You can’t sweep this under the rug. Four police officers killed one man. He was upright and he was fine, until they put him in a prone position, face down, with his hands behind his back, with a man with his knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, as he took the soul of my brother’s body. As he begged for his momma, he said, tell my kids I love them. No man should have to do that. No man. We live in a world where people can perform a execution, a modern-day execution, in broad daylight. Times have got to change now. We are thankful to all the protesters, all the activists, everybody in America, everybody around the world who said, “Until we get justice for George Floyd, none of us can breathe.” Preferably at the end of this trial, we can all exhale together for George Floyd, give him the breath that was denied to him by Derek Chauvin.

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George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, and a family lawyer, Ben Crump, spoke in Minneapolis on Sunday night ahead of the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged in George Floyd’s death.CreditCredit…Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Philonise Floyd, the younger brother of George Floyd Jr., urged the jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin to find the former police officer guilty for his brother’s death.

“I have a big hole in my heart,” he said Sunday at a news conference. “It can’t be patched up. No amount of money that you give, none of that, can patch that. I need justice for George. We need a conviction.”

The city of Minneapolis settled a lawsuit with Mr. Floyd’s family before the trial, agreeing to pay them $27 million in connection to Mr. Floyd’s death, one of the largest such settlements on record.

The younger Floyd has been one of the most visible family members advocating for justice in his brother’s death, including testifying to Congress in July on police brutality and systemic racism. His brother was the eldest of five siblings.

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March 29, 2021, 9:25 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 9:25 a.m. ET

By The New York Times

Michael Barbaro, the host of “The Daily,” speaks with Shaila Dewan, a reporter covering criminal justice for The New York Times, about what we know about the prosecution, the defense and the jury ahead of the opening statements in the trial of the former police officer accused of killing George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Listen to more audio stories about the movements fueled by Mr. Floyd’s death:

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March 29, 2021, 8:49 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 8:49 a.m. ET
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How George Floyd Was Killed in Police Custody

The Times has reconstructed the death of George Floyd on May 25. Security footage, witness videos and official documents show how a series of actions by officers turned fatal. (This video contains scenes of graphic violence.)

It’s a Monday evening in Minneapolis. Police respond to a call about a man who allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Seventeen minutes later, the man they are there to investigate lies motionless on the ground, and is pronounced dead shortly after. The man was 46-year-old George Floyd, a bouncer originally from Houston who had lost his job at a restaurant when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Crowd: “No justice, no peace.” Floyd’s death triggered major protests in Minneapolis, and sparked rage across the country. One of the officers involved, Derek Chauvin, has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. The other three officers have been charged with aiding and abetting murder. The Times analyzed bystander videos, security camera footage and police scanner audio, spoke to witnesses and experts, and reviewed documents released by the authorities to build as comprehensive a picture as possible and better understand how George Floyd died in police custody. The events of May 25 begin here. Floyd is sitting in the driver’s seat of this blue S.U.V. Across the street is a convenience store called Cup Foods. Footage from this restaurant security camera helps us understand what happens next. Note that the timestamp on the camera is 24 minutes fast. At 7:57 p.m., two employees from Cup Foods confront Floyd and his companions about an alleged counterfeit bill he just used in their store to buy cigarettes. They demand the cigarettes back but walk away empty-handed. Four minutes later, they call the police. According to the 911 transcript, an employee says that Floyd used fake bills to buy cigarettes, and that he is “awfully drunk” and “not in control of himself.” Soon, the first police vehicle arrives on the scene. Officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng step out of the car and approach the blue S.U.V. Seconds later, Lane pulls his gun. We don’t know exactly why. He orders Floyd to put his hands on the wheel. Lane reholsters the gun, and after about 90 seconds of back and forth, yanks Floyd out of the S.U.V. A man is filming the confrontation from a car parked behind them. The officers cuff Floyd’s hands behind his back. And Kueng walks him to the restaurant wall. “All right, what’s your name?” From the 911 transcript and the footage, we now know three important facts: First, that the police believed they were responding to a man who was drunk and out of control. But second, even though the police were expecting this situation, we can see that Floyd has not acted violently. And third, that he seems to already be in distress. Six minutes into the arrest, the two officers move Floyd back to their vehicle. As the officers approach their car, we can see Floyd fall to the ground. According to the criminal complaints filed against the officers, Floyd says he is claustrophobic and refuses to enter the police car. During the struggle, Floyd appears to turn his head to address the officers multiple times. According to the complaints, he tells them he can’t breathe. Nine minutes into the arrest, the third and final police car arrives on the scene. It’s carrying officers Tou Thao and Derek Chauvin. Both have previous records of complaints brought against them. Thao was once sued for throwing a man to the ground and hitting him. Chauvin has been involved in three police shootings, one of them fatal. Chauvin becomes involved in the struggle to get Floyd into the car. Security camera footage from Cup Foods shows Kueng struggling with Floyd in the backseat while Thao watches. Chauvin pulls him through the back seat and onto the street. We don’t know why. Floyd is now lying on the pavement, face down. That’s when two witnesses begin filming, almost simultaneously. The footage from the first witness shows us that all four officers are now gathered around Floyd. It’s the first moment when we can clearly see that Floyd is face down on the ground, with three officers applying pressure to his neck, torso and legs. At 8:20 p.m., we hear Floyd’s voice for the first time. The video stops when Lane appears to tell the person filming to walk away. “Get off to the sidewalk, please. One side or the other, please.” The officers radio a Code 2, a call for non-emergency medical assistance, reporting an injury to Floyd’s mouth. In the background, we can hear Floyd struggling. The call is quickly upgraded to a Code 3, a call for emergency medical assistance. By now another bystander, 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, is filming from a different angle. Her footage shows that despite calls for medical help, Chauvin keeps Floyd pinned down for another seven minutes. We can’t see whether Kueng and Lane are still applying pressure. Floyd: [gasping] Officer: “What do you want?” Bystander: “I’ve been –” Floyd: [gasping] In the two videos, Floyd can be heard telling officers that he can’t breathe at least 16 times in less than five minutes. Bystander: “You having fun?” But Chauvin never takes his knee off of Floyd, even as his eyes close and he appears to go unconscious. Bystander: “Bro.” According to medical and policing experts, these four police officers are committing a series of actions that violate policies, and in this case, turn fatal. They’ve kept Floyd lying face down, applying pressure for at least five minutes. This combined action is likely compressing his chest and making it impossible to breathe. Chauvin is pushing his knee into Floyd’s neck, a move banned by most police departments. Minneapolis Police Department policy states an officer can only do this if someone is, quote, “actively resisting.” And even though the officers call for medical assistance, they take no action to treat Floyd on their own while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Officer: “Get back on the sidewalk.” According to the complaints against the officers, Lane asks him twice if they should roll Floyd onto his side. Chauvin says no. Twenty minutes into the arrest, an ambulance arrives on the scene. Bystander: “Get off of his neck!” Bystander: “He’s still on him?” The E.M.T.s check Floyd’s pulse. Bystander: “Are you serious?” Chauvin keeps his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost another whole minute, even though Floyd appears completely unresponsive. He only gets off once the E.M.T.s tell him to. Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, according to our review of the video evidence. Floyd is loaded into the ambulance. The ambulance leaves the scene, possibly because a crowd is forming. But the E.M.T.s call for additional medical help from the fire department. But when the engine arrives, the officers give them, quote, “no clear info on Floyd or his whereabouts,” according to a fire department incident report. This delays their ability to help the paramedics. Meanwhile, Floyd is going into cardiac arrest. It takes the engine five minutes to reach Floyd in the ambulance. He’s pronounced dead at a nearby hospital around 9:25 p.m. Preliminary autopsies conducted by the state and Floyd’s family both ruled his death a homicide. The widely circulated arrest videos don’t paint the entire picture of what happened to George Floyd. Crowd: “Floyd! Floyd!” Additional video and audio from the body cameras of the key officers would reveal more about why the struggle began and how it escalated. The city quickly fired all four officers. And Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao were charged with aiding and abetting murder. But outrage over George Floyd’s death has only spread further and further across the United States.

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The Times has reconstructed the death of George Floyd on May 25. Security footage, witness videos and official documents show how a series of actions by officers turned fatal. (This video contains scenes of graphic violence.)

On May 25, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, after a convenience store employee called 911 to report that Mr. Floyd had bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Mr. Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers, showing no signs of life.

By combining videos from bystanders and security cameras, reviewing official documents and consulting experts, The New York Times reconstructed in detail the minutes leading to Mr. Floyd’s death. Our video shows officers taking a series of actions that violated the policies of the Minneapolis Police Department and turned fatal, leaving Mr. Floyd unable to breathe, even as he and onlookers called out for help.

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March 29, 2021, 8:15 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 8:15 a.m. ET
A candlelight vigil was held Sunday at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed in May.
A candlelight vigil was held Sunday at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed in May. Credit…Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd will be unusual for many reasons: It will be livestreamed from Minneapolis, attendance will be severely limited because of the coronavirus, and the public’s interest in the case may make this one of the highest-profile trials in recent memory.

The trial can be watched on nytimes.com, via a livestream provided by Court TV. Opening statements are expected to begin around 10:30 a.m. Eastern on Monday. Witness testimony and lawyers’ presentation of evidence should last several weeks before the jury begins to deliberate over the verdict.

Among the people allowed in the courtroom, on the 18th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, are the judge, jurors, witnesses, court staff, lawyers, Mr. Chauvin, and only a handful of spectators. The judge, Peter A. Cahill, wrote in an order on March 1 that only one member of Mr. Floyd’s family and one member of Mr. Chauvin’s family would be allowed in the room at any time. Two seats will be reserved for reporters, and various journalists, including from The New York Times, will rotate throughout the trial.

The lawyers, spectators, jurors and witnesses will be required to wear masks when they are not speaking. Spectators are prohibited from having any visible images, logos, letters or numbers on their masks or clothing, according to Judge Cahill’s order.

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March 29, 2021, 8:15 a.m. ETMarch 29, 2021, 8:15 a.m. ET
The site of the Derek Chauvin trial, the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, earlier this month.
The site of the Derek Chauvin trial, the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, earlier this month.Credit…Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

MINNEAPOLIS — Opening statements in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, begin Monday morning in a heavily fortified courthouse in downtown Minneapolis.

The trial begins 10 months after Mr. Floyd, a Black man, died last May after being held down by police officers on a South Minneapolis street corner in an episode that was captured on a cellphone video and set off protests for racial justice around the nation. Mr. Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, ignoring Mr. Floyd’s repeated pleas that he could not breathe and his cries for his mother.

For a country that rarely holds police officers accountable for killing people on the job, especially Black people, the trial is a test of whether the criminal justice system has changed after Mr. Floyd’s death. The case is the most pivotal police brutality trial since the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in the early 1990s.

Against the backdrop of the ongoing struggle to reform policing and push the nation forward on matters of racial justice, the trial will be fought on the narrower grounds of toxicology reports, medical records and police training manuals. Mr. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Above all, the case is likely to turn on one central question: What caused Mr. Floyd’s death?

The centerpiece of Mr. Chauvin’s defense strategy, as laid out in motions and pretrial arguments, is making the case that Mr. Floyd died of a drug overdose — a toxicology report showed fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system — complicated by underlying health conditions.

The prosecution will try to convince the jury that Mr. Chauvin’s knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for so long was a substantial factor in his death, regardless of the amount of drugs in his system, and his health problems.

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