"I Believed I Witnessed A Murder," Eyewitness Testifies in Emotional Day 2 of Chauvin Trial
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
By King Demitrius Pendleton and Tigger Lunney
“I stay up nights apologizing to George Floyd,” 18 year old Darnella Fraizer said through tears from the witness stand today. “It’s not what I should have done,” as she pointed at former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, “It’s what he should have done.”
This painful statement from Frazier, coming at the end of her testimony, was the most profoundly heartfelt in the second day of the trial of Chauvin for murdering Floyd last May, a day marked by intense emotion from all six witnesses and clear battle lines being drawn by Judge Peter Cahill and counsel for the prosecution and defense.
The day began with the conclusion of testimony from Donald Williams II, the eyewitness who used his extensive knowledge of mixed martial arts to point out to Chauvin that his knee was cutting blood from carrying oxygen to Floyd’s brain. This knowledge, and the discipline honed by his training, continued to be essential in court today, as defense attorney Eric Nelson repeatedly attempted to depict Williams and the other bystanders on May 25th as an angry mob threatening the police.
“You can’t paint me out as angry,” Williams said to Nelson defiantly, after Nelson repeatedly questioned his state of mind while watching Chauvin kneel on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes. According to Williams he was upset because Chauvin and other officers “were not listening to anything I was telling them,” but stressed that he was in control the entire time.
And while video definitely showed Williams and other eyewitnesses reacting emotionally as Chauvin choked Floyd and other officers mocked the crowd, shouting “This is what drugs get you, kids!” there was no violence, no physical acting out, and definitely nothing approaching the kind of anger Nelson was seeking to depict. It was clear early on that the first part of Nelson’s strategy to create reasonable doubt in the jury’s mind is implying that Chauvin and other officers did not feel safe from the crowd and therefore could not focus properly on Floyd’ safety. This approach failed with Williams but continued in his cross examination of multiple witnesses throughout the day.
The next four witnesses, including Frazier, were all minors on May 25th; only Frazier, who has since turned 18 and posted the original viral video of Chauvin killing Floyd, will be named here. One witness, who was only 9 years old, recounted asking Chauvin to stop and saying that he didn’t, even when medics arrived and “asked him nicely.”
Nelson was less aggressive with the four young women, opting not to cross-examine the 9 year old or the other child under 18. With both Frazier and the other young witness who has since turned 18, he was less aggressive than with Williams, but pounced quickly on any opportunity he saw to depict them as not full understanding what was going on.
Still, throughout the eyewitness testimony, the story remained the same. People begged Chauvin to release Floyd. Chauvin ignored them while other officers prevented close access, threatening to mace people. The crowd wasn’t about to break out into violence. They just couldn’t believe that a police officer was killing someone in plain sight and refusing to stop. From Williams to the four young women to the final witness of the day, Minneapolis firefighter Genevieve Hansen, the testimony was consistent.
Of all the witnesses, Hansen’s exchanges with Nelson were by far the most hostile, exceeding even his interaction with Williams. After Hansen answered prosecutor Matthew Frank’s questions about the details of the event as well as her observations as a trained firefighter and emergency medical technician, Nelson quickly challenged her not only on her emotional state at the time, but on the idea that it was even appropriate for her to attempt to step in to check on Floyd’s health. Nelson asked her repeatedly about her state of mind during the event and how she would feel if a crowd was shouting angrily at her as she put out a fire. Hansen seemed increasingly frustrated by the repetitive nature of the questions, at one point abruptly cutting Nelson off mid-question and saying, “I don’t know if you’ve seen anybody be killed, but it’s upsetting.” After several minutes of tense exchanges between Nelson and Hansen, Judge Cahill dismissed the jury and admonished Hansen for arguing with Nelson. “They have the right to ask questions,” he said. “Your job is to answer.” He then adjourned for the day, with Hansen returning to the stand tomorrow to finish defense cross examination and any further questions the prosecution may have once Nelson is done.
While the emotions behind the tears and flaring tempers of the witnesses were real, it was expected given the warring strategies of the lawyers in the room, with Jerry Blackwell, Erin Eldridge, and Matthew Frank for the state focusing on the tragedy of the situation and people terrified of the police as a counterpoint to Nelson’s version of cops fearful of an angry crowd. But Frazier’s words, through tears of trauma and regret, were completely unexpected by everyone in the room. When Nelson asked her how her life had changed because of her viral video, he was shamelessly, if passive-aggressively, trying to paint her as a fame-seeker. But when Blackwell countered by asking her how her life had changed because of seeing George Floyd die, what everyone in the courtroom and around the world got was a emotionally complex, brutally honest answer by someonr who could have been speaking for every person traumatized by the unspeakable and unnecessary tragedy of watching someone in uniform murder a neighbor in the street for no reason.