North Carolina native, UNC law school grad who prosecuted Derek Chauvin reflects on case at Duke

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021
NC native who prosecuted Derek Chauvin reflects on case at Duke
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Five months after Derek Chauvin was found guilty, the North Carolina lawyer who prosecuted him reflected on the trial with Duke law students.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Five months to the day that Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all charges in the murder of George Floyd, the North Carolina lawyer who found himself in the middle of the major trial gave Duke law students an inside look at the case that the world was watching.

"You can ask whatever you want about the George Floyd trial and I'll answer what I can," Jerry Blackwell said with a smile at Monday night's virtual town hall organized by Duke Law School professors.

Monday, it was Blackwell answering the questions not asking them. But for three weeks last spring, he was a lead prosecutor in Minnesota's case against Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer caught on video pinning his knee into the neck of Fayetteville native George Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

One of the first questions at the town hall Monday night: What prepared you to take the case?

"George Floyd died in all of our living rooms. We all saw it, experienced it. I could personally relate to it," Blackwell said, describing the guttural reaction that drew him to the prosecution team.

From Raleigh to Fayetteville, reaction pours in after Chauvin found guilty in George Floyd's death

Blackwell was born and raised in Kannapolis before moving to Chapel Hill for UNC undergrad and law school. He made his name in Minnesota as a civil trial attorney with a client list of Fortune 500 companies. The Chauvin trial was his first criminal case.

"I'm a trial lawyer and this was a criminal matter. I don't know how I can help. But in my heart, I just resigned myself to anything I can do, I'm gonna try to do," Blackwell said.

The Duke professors asked about the challenges of the case. Blackwell said race was strong undercurrent. And while George Floyd was not on trial, Blackwell had to counteract Chauvin's defense pointing to Floyd's struggle with drug addiction as a factor. But, the biggest challenge, he said, was getting the public to question its trust in policing.

"The challenge of trying to convict a police officer in an excessive use of force case where the victim is African American is a rare thing," Blackwell said.

Of course, Chauvin was convicted. The decision was cheered, by many, as a rare rebuke of police violence. Blackwell admitted that even with weeks of gripping testimony from eyewitnesses, medical experts and Floyd's family -- there were doubts about how the verdict would come down.

"I can tell you that according to the polls I saw, only 42% of African Americans thought there would be a conviction, even in the face of that evidence, given the history," Blackwell told the law students.

Blackwell delivered opening and closing arguments during the Chauvin trial as one of nine private attorneys recruited as special prosecutors. Blackwell joked that one of the things that put the "special" in "special prosecutor" -- was the fact that he would not be paid. He provided his services free of charge.

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