Keith Ellison, the attorney general of Minnesota, told The Star Tribune that there was little jubilation at securing the conviction of the 45-year-old former police officer for the May 25 death of George Floyd.
‘It’s sad, very sad,’ said Ellison.
‘One man’s dead and another man’s going to prison for a long time.’
Keith Ellison, the attorney general of Minnesota, led the prosecution of Derek Chauvin
Jerry Blackwell, special assistant attorney general, delivered powerful a opening statement
Jerry Blackwell, special assistant attorney general – who delivered powerful opening and closing statements – agreed.
‘It’s a tragedy, and there really are no winners in a tragedy,’ he said.
The team gathered to speak to their local newspaper, and admitted that they were still reeling from the intensity of the three-week trial, and the 10 months of preparation that went into it.
Lola Velazquez-Aguilu, special assistant attorney general, said: ‘I asked these guys when we got here, ‘Are you sleeping yet?’ and for all of us the answer is no, we’re not sleeping yet.’
Chauvin is currently in Oak Park Heights prison – Minnesota’s only maximum security facility – and will be sentenced on June 16.
The prosecutors will be back in court in August, pursuing the conviction of the other three officers involved in Floyd’s fatal arrest – J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
Ellison led the prosecution, with assistance from Hennepin County attorney’s office.
Derek Chauvin, in his booking photo on April 21, will be sentenced on June 16
Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck during arrest, leading to the 46-year-old’s death
He brought together an ‘all star’ team of 13 attorneys from around the nation, working remotely and meeting via Zoom owing to the pandemic.
They were assigned to committees covering different topics, including law enforcement and policing; medical issues and the cause of death; plus the art of presentation.
Central to the case was the video, filmed by Darnella Frazier, of Floyd’s arrest, and they said they carefully weighed how much to use it.
‘We felt that the most potent, powerful evidence there was the video and let people see it for themselves, judge it for themselves, reach their own conclusions and be able to say to them, ‘There’s no optical illusion in this; you can believe your eyes,’ ‘ Blackwell said.
He said their aim was to craft an argument based on logic, rather than emotion.
Ellison added: ‘Even though the video was incredibly powerful, I always was thinking about how we need to present this case if we somehow didn’t have the video.
‘I thought we needed to try the case imagining we didn’t have the video and that was important, because I was always mindful, ‘Are we playing it too much? At what point do you desensitize?”
Ellison said that key to their successful operation was assigning attorneys as leaders in one committee, and followers in others, to empower everyone to contribute.
Blackwell and Steve Schleicher, one of the trial prosecutors, said Ellison’s guidance, weekly Zoom meetings, organized groups and clearly outlined tasks and purposes eased the process.
‘It was not a pirate ship,’ said Schleicher.
‘It was a warship, and it was ready to go.’
Chauvin is pictured in court during the three-week trial, which saw him convicted on Tuesday
Blackwell (far left) and Ellison (second left) with Chauvin (far right) and his attorney, Eric Nelson
Velazquez-Aguilu, who focused on medical issues, preparing experts and outlining questions behind the scenes, said that the sense of teamwork was strong.
‘Everybody was willing to take out the trash, to literally do anything large or small,’ she said.
‘At no time did I see anyone with a hint of ego say, ‘Well, I’m too important to do this thing.’ ‘
All agreed that working remotely was not easy – some of them did not meet in person until they had been working together for six months.
‘There were times it felt like trying to mix oil, water and a brick,’ Blackwell said.
‘You take deep breaths and you keep working at it. Everyone was committed to finding the best way to win. We understood we couldn’t take anything for granted. These cases are difficult.’
A complicating factor was the $27 million settlement paid to the Floyd family by the City of Minneapolis, just as the case was beginning.
Yet Ellison said it was not a concern for him.
‘I don’t believe I knew anything about it. I certainly didn’t factor it in. I didn’t have any authority over it,’ he said.
‘Didn’t care, didn’t matter to me.’