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In civil rights trial over George Floyd's death, jurors will begin deliberations

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Jurors in Minnesota are expected to begin deliberations today in the trial of the three former Minneapolis police officers who were on duty with Derek Chauvin when he killed George Floyd. After a month of testimony, the jury will now decide whether the men are guilty of violating Floyd's civil rights. Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are charged with failing to get medical care to George Floyd as Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for 9 1/2 minutes. Kueng and Thao are also accused of not intervening to stop Chauvin, who pleaded guilty in this federal case. He's serving a 22 1/2 year sentence following his state murder trial last spring. The government presented much of the same evidence included in the first trial, like body camera video, where Floyd is heard telling officers 23 times that he can't breathe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: He's not responsive right now. We got to call it in (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Unresponsive?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Right now.

SEPIC: During her closing yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich argued the men had plenty of opportunities to save Floyd's life. But, she said, they were indifferent to his pain. Rather than stopping, quote, "the crime in front of him," Sertich said Thao mocked and argued with a half dozen bystanders as they begged officers to ease up. Kueng, Sertich said, pressed down on Floyd's handcuffed wrists. While Thomas Lane is heard on the video twice asking Chauvin to turn Floyd on his side, Sertich said Lane still did nothing to get Floyd the medical attention he desperately needed. Angi Porter, a professor and research fellow at Georgetown University Law Center, says prosecutors presented their arguments well. But, she says, the legal issues could be challenging for jurors because the case is not about what the defendants did, but what they allegedly failed to do.

ANGI PORTER: From a typical jury member perspective, that's big - the fact that somebody can be held accountable for something they didn't do, it feels a lot different from holding someone like Chauvin responsible for something he did do.

SEPIC: During their closing, defense attorneys focused largely on Floyd's actions. Robert Paule, who represents Thao, said that when officers first tried to put Floyd in the squad car, he engaged in, quote, "active resistance" and exhibited, quote, "superhuman strength." Kueng's attorney, Thomas Plunkett, argued his client's training on the duty to intervene policy was inadequate. And like Lane, Kueng was in his first week on the job and felt he had to defer to Chauvin, a 19-year veteran. All three former officers testified in their own defense, something University of St. Thomas law professor Mark Osler says generally worked in their favor. The key challenge for them is the extended period of time that Chauvin kneeled on Floyd's neck. Osler says if the jury convicts any of the defendants, that could lead to major changes in police training and culture.

MARK OSLER: We haven't seen a case like this one that so squarely raised that question of the duty to intervene by officers who are standing nearby. So I think it's very important for that discussion and whether or not we have that discussion going forward.

SEPIC: Whether or not the federal jury convicts the former officers, they still face charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in another state case that's scheduled for trial this summer. For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF TULPA'S "THE BIRDS AND BEES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.