After jurors decided to convict former police officer Derek Chauvin for two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in connection with the killing of George Floyd last year, a debate erupted. Some argued that the conviction was just, while others believed Chauvin should not be punished at all. Others argued that the threat of violence and riots coerced the jury into convicting the former police officer rather than the case laid out by the prosecution.
Lisa Christensen, who served as an alternate on the jury, recently made waves during an interview after some interpreted her remarks as indicating that she would have voted to convict Chauvin not because she believed he is guilty, but because she was concerned about riots. However, a closer look at the interview reveals that this is not quite what she was communicating.
Shortly after the verdict was announced, Christensen participated in an interview with KARE’s Lou Raguse in which she discussed how the jury arrived at the verdict. The part that that attracted scrutiny occurred when she brought up her initial concerns about the fallout of the trial.
Raguse asked: “Did you want to be a juror?”
I had mixed feelings. There was a question on the questionnaire about it and I put I did not know. The reason, at that time, was I did not know what the outcome was going to be, so I felt like either way you are going to disappoint one group or the other. I did not want to go through rioting and destruction again and I was concerned about people coming to my house if they were not happy with the verdict.
Note that Christensen does not state that the potential for riots influenced her belief in Chauvin’s guilt. She merely recalled having concerns about what could happen in the event of a specific outcome if she were to become a juror. In fact, she goes on to explain that she believed the former police officer was guilty based on the evidence provided by the prosecution.
Raguse asked, “You were an alternate, but would you have voted guilty or not guilty?”
The juror replied:
I would have voted guilty. However, at the end the judge did read us the rules for deliberation, but it was quick, and I could not absorb it. I would have said guilty on some level. After I was excused, I did not look at the jury instructions any longer. I do not know how hard that process was, but I feel like Chauvin is responsible for Mr. Floyd’s death.
She further explained that she believed the “prosecution did a good presentation of their case” and that pulmonologist Dr. Martin Tobin, along with other witnesses, was the one who swayed her opinion. She told Raguse that LAPD Sergeant Jody Stiger, an expert on police use of force, convinced her that Chauvin use “excessive” force on Floyd.
“Yes, we heard a lot about the use of force, was it excessive, was it necessary, when do police officers stop it, and could it have been stopped at one point. I kept thinking about the critical decision-making model that was presented. It was in the back of my mind about how they said you must reassess constantly, and I felt like that was not done,” Christensen said.
The juror also explained that the Minneapolis police officers who testified against Chauvin were also a critical component. “Some of the trainers said, ‘I don’t even know what that is, we don’t train like that.’ That was helpful to hear because they said they can use force, but it did not seem like they could use that type of force,” she said.
Interestingly enough, Christensen indicated that she was leaning towards the defense at first. She recalled:
On the first or second day, I feel like Mr. Nelson did a really good job. He was believable and brought out a lot of good points. When he said, “We are just concentrating on those nine minutes and 29 seconds and no one is talking about the 16 minutes prior,” it was kind of an eye opener. I did listen to what he said, and I did think the officers were reasonable during the first 16 minutes, but when Mr. Floyd was put in the prone position on the ground it all seemed to go out of the window. It did not apply any longer.
But what was most telling about Christensen’s remarks was what she believed about outside forces pushing the jury to decide on a guilty verdict. When Raguse asked if she thought external factors played a part in her decision, she replied: “I don’t.”
I feel like we took this trial very seriously, we didn’t want anything to go wrong. I feel like none of us watched the news or were on our phones [on] social media or anything. We did not discuss it among any of us, so I wasn’t aware until afterwards, when I got released, the magnitude of everything.
Despite what some have argued, Christensen never implied that the possibility of riots influenced her view of the case. Is it possible that these issues could have influenced other members of the jury? Sure. But as of this moment, we have no evidence to that effect, and it is unlikely that any proof of this claim will materialize.
The bottom line is that it is far more likely that the jury was persuaded by the case laid out by the prosecution. On one hand, the defense lawyer had an advantage, because he only had to persuade one juror. But on the other hand, convincing anyone that kneeling on someone’s neck for nine minutes could not have contributed to their death is no easy task.
The defense will undoubtedly appeal the case. However, it is not likely that such an effort will lead to an acquittal.