Chauvin juror: After intense trial, verdict was 'easy part'
Updated: 7:52 p.m.
A juror who cast one of the unanimous votes to convict a white former Minneapolis police officer in George Floyd's death said Wednesday that deliberations were relaxed and methodical as he and 11 other jurors quickly talked their way to agreement in parts of just two days.
Brandon Mitchell was the first juror who deliberated to come forward publicly since Derek Chauvin was convicted April 20 of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, following an alternate juror who wasn't part of deliberations. Mitchell, who is Black, said the jury room was a relief after three weeks of emotional testimony that he described as “like a funeral” day after day.
“It’s not human nature to watch people die," Mitchell said in an interview with The Associated Press, describing testimony that day after day included video of Floyd's desperate cries as he was held down by Chauvin. “You know you want to be able to help somebody... watching the same person die every day, and you see his family member in the (courtroom).”
Prosecutors said Chauvin pinned Floyd, a Black man, to the pavement outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis for 9 minutes, 29 seconds on May 25. Floyd had been accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at the store. Three other officers, since fired, face trial in August.
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Prosecutors played a wide range of videos for the jury, including teenager Darnella Frazier’s bystander video that was seen worldwide in the hours after Floyd’s death. That video and the officers’ body camera video recorded bystanders shouting at Chauvin and the other officers to get off Floyd, warning that they were cutting off his breathing and asking them to check for a pulse.
“It's cold in the room. It just feels dark,” Mitchell said of the weeks of testimony. “It felt like a funeral in there. ... The decision was the easy part.”
Mitchell, 31, a high school basketball coach, recounted his jury experience in a round of interviews with multiple media outlets, including telling ABC's “Good Morning America” that he thought verdicts could have been reached even faster: “I felt like it should have been 20 minutes,” he said.
In his interview with AP, Mitchell described jurors settling down to work the afternoon after sitting through hours of closing arguments. They elected a foreperson, he said, “then we went straight to manslaughter,” with a preliminary vote and soon a final vote.
They then broke and came back the second day, and started with the third-degree murder charge.
“That took a little bit more time,” Mitchell said, calling the language of the statute “a little bit tricky.” After about four hours on that, he said, jurors then reached agreement in just half an hour on second-degree murder. He said the group simply worked its way through jury instructions in checklist fashion.
Mitchell described body camera footage as “for sure” the strongest part of the prosecution case, followed closely by Dr. Martin Tobin, a breathing expert whom he said “kind of set it over the top” with a convincing and easily understood explanation of how Floyd was unable to breathe due to the restraint.
Mitchell said he thought Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson “actually did an OK job.”
“I just don't think they had any, they didn't have an avenue to go down,” he said. “They threw a bunch of things out there just to see what would stick" but none did.
"Their opening statement and some of their early arguments were very, were so good that I was very curious and was waiting for that moment, for that kind of a-ha moment .... that just never happened,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he thought Nelson's frequent portrayal of about 15 bystanders as a potential threat to officers was “a good idea.”
“The only issue is that nobody seemed hostile,” he said. He said he was befuddled by one sequence in testimony when Nelson asked a state investigative agent whether Floyd could be heard saying “I ate too many drugs” on a snippet of body camera video. The agent later reversed himself, saying he didn't think that was what Floyd had said.
“I didn't really understand it,” Mitchell said.
Chauvin chose not to testify, a decision Mitchell said he didn't think affected the final outcome: “I think the evidence was too much.”
Mitchell said he felt no pressure to reach a verdict that would lessen the chance of violent protests, and didn't think the other jurors did, either. He said he was only vaguely aware of the police shooting of Black motorist Daunte Wright in nearby Brooklyn Center that set off a week of raucous protest in that city in the midst of the trial.
Mitchell hid his involvement in the Chauvin trial from the kids on his basketball team, saying they knew he was on a jury but not that case. He said his mother and siblings knew.
“They wanted me to stay on the jury, so they avoided (talking about the case) like the Black Plague,” Mitchell said. He said he was relieved to now be able to talk about the case.
He was reluctant to predict what will happen to three other fired officers charged in Floyd's death: Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao, who all face a joint trial in August.
“Their cases are going to be very different," he said, noting Lane asking at one point whether Floyd should be turned. “It’s really hard to tell how much they really, uh, participated in the events. It’s really not as easy… as the Chauvin trial was.”
Mitchell called his participation in the trial “eye-opening” but hesitated when asked whether it had also been life-changing.
“Hopefully, it sparks a lot of change in my community,” he said.