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Takeaways From Week 1 Of Derek Chauvin's Trial


There were startling and compelling images in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin this week. The former Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on George Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes. He now faces charges of murder and manslaughter. His trial resumes Monday. NPR's Cheryl Corley is in Minneapolis, where she's been covering the trial. Cheryl, thanks so much for being with us.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Quite welcome, Scott.

SIMON: Many of the witnesses testifying, of course, were bystanders at the scene of George Floyd's arrest. One of them was Darnella Frazier, who recorded the video that became so well-known and led to massive demonstrations. What did she have to say?

CORLEY: Well, Frazier, who was 17 years old at the time, she and three other minors testified during the trial, and she talked about walking her 9-year-old cousin to the grocery store and seeing Floyd pinned to the ground, pleading for his life. So she ushered her cousin into the store - she didn't really want him to see that - and then came back to videotape what she was seeing. And in the courtroom, she just cried, tears streaming down her face as she talked about it.


DARNELLA FRAZIER: It's been nights I stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life.

SIMON: Cheryl, of course, that video of George Floyd lying on the ground is so well-known around the world at this point. Prosecutors tried to fill in some of the human personality of that, hearing testimony from his girlfriend, Courteney Ross. What did her story provide?

CORLEY: Well, she presented what's called a kind of spark-of-life testimony, letting people know that a person - what a person was really like. And she talked about how she met Floyd at a Salvation Army while he was a security guard during a time when she was really feeling distressed.


COURTENEY ROSS: I like to say his voice dropped, like, two levels even though it was deep already. And he asked me if he could get my number. And we had our first kiss in the lobby. And that's when our relationship started.

CORLEY: You know, and Ross said George Floyd loved working out, lifting weights, playing sports with kids. But she also talked about their dependency on prescription drugs. And she called it a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids.


ROSS: We both suffered from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck, and his was in his back. We got addicted and tried really hard to break that addiction many times.

CORLEY: An effort by prosecutors just to kind of get ahead of what they expect to come from the defense, them talking about George Floyd's drug addiction.

SIMON: Cheryl, what stood out for you during this first week of the trial?

CORLEY: Well, two things - the first, the testimony of police officers against their own. We heard from them talking about police use of force and the department's policy. And we heard from Chauvin's supervisor, now-retired Sergeant David Pleoger, who testified there really wasn't any justification for keeping Floyd in that position for so long.


DAVID PLEOGER: When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could've ended their restraint.

STEVE SCHLEICHER: And that was after he was handcuffed and on the ground and no longer resisting.

PLEOGER: Correct.

CORLEY: And I think the second thing that was just so surprising was the really overwhelming amount of video that has become a part of this trial, showing George Floyd as a customer and multiple versions of his arrest and takedown by officers from their police body-worn cameras.

SIMON: NPR's Cheryl Corley in Minneapolis, thanks so much.

CORLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley
Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.