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Witnesses in Chauvin Trial Agonize Over Floyd’s Death

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MINNEAPOLIS — He chatted with a store clerk about playing football. He grabbed a banana off a shelf, flipped through a wad of cash, and hugged and exchanged pleasantries with a woman, laughing with his hand on her back.

In surveillance footage played for the first time in a Minneapolis courtroom on Wednesday, the world got to see George Floyd as it never had before: He was just another customer in a corner store that he liked to frequent.

Within half an hour, Mr. Floyd would be handcuffed and face down on the pavement outside of Cup Foods, calling out for his mother as a police officer pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck. Roughly two hours after he walked into the store he was dead.

On the third day of testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with murdering Mr. Floyd, a clearer picture emerged of the events preceding Mr. Floyd’s death, with witness after witness agonizing over whether they could have done anything to stop what would soon unfold.

The 19-year-old clerk who served Mr. Floyd at the corner store that day wondered whether the death was his fault because he had reported that Mr. Floyd used a fake $20 bill. A 61-year-old man who saw the police pinning Mr. Floyd to the ground shook his head and held back tears as a video of the brutal arrest played. He collapsed on the witness stand, sobbing. “I can’t help but feel helpless,” said the man, Charles McMillian. “I don’t have a mama either, but I understand him.”

Mr. Floyd’s death last May left a trail of agony for the people who were part of the unfolding tragedy — the weight of what they had witnessed plain to see in the form of tears, long pauses and deep breaths during their testimony.

It all began casually at the corner store. In the surveillance footage, Mr. Floyd is seen pacing the aisles, speaking with other customers and workers. He goes from one end to the next, accidentally knocks over a banana and puts it back, and then makes his way to the tobacco section at the front of the store.

At the counter, Mr. Floyd can be seen offering the teenage clerk, Christopher Martin, a $20 bill in exchange for a pack of cigarettes. Mr. Martin said he quickly realized the bill was counterfeit; the blue pigmentation gave it away, he testified. For one brief moment, Mr. Martin thought to let it go and put it on his own tab — the store’s policy was that fake money would be deducted from the paycheck of the employee who accepted it, he said. But then he changed his mind.

He told his manager, who sent him after Mr. Floyd. But after Mr. Floyd refused to come back in, another employee called the police.

The situation quickly escalated when an officer approached Mr. Floyd with his gun drawn. Mr. Floyd was pulled out of his car, as seen in disturbing body camera footage played in court on Wednesday, and police officers struggled to get him to stay in the back of a police car. Mr. Chauvin and two other officers eventually pinned him to the pavement.

Mr. Martin became emotional in court when shown surveillance video of him standing outside the store, clutching his head as Mr. Chauvin knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck.

“Disbelief and guilt,” he said of what he thought at that moment. “If I would have just not taken the bill, this could have been avoided.”

Mr. McMillian, the 61-year-old witness, had pulled over his minivan when he saw officers detaining Mr. Floyd to get a closer look at what was going on. Video footage of the arrest showed Mr. McMillian urging Mr. Floyd to stop resisting. As a clip played in court of Mr. Floyd screaming for his mother as the officers held him down, Mr. McMillian dropped his head and sobbed. He took off his glasses, pulled several tissues from a box and began to wipe his eyes.

The judge called an abrupt recess.

Rodney Floyd, one of Mr. Floyd’s brothers, was also in the courtroom on Wednesday. He dropped his head and shook it as the graphic video played while Mr. McMillian was testifying. During the recess, after Mr. McMillian broke down, Rodney Floyd sat in the hallway in tears, while prosecutors nearby consoled Mr. McMillian and helped him regain his composure so he could resume his testimony.

Later in the day, toward the end of testimony, footage from Mr. Chauvin’s body camera, seen publicly for the first time on Wednesday, showed Mr. McMillian and Mr. Chauvin talking after an ambulance took Mr. Floyd away.

“We got to control this guy because he’s a sizable guy, and it looks like he’s probably on something,” Mr. Chauvin told Mr. McMillian.

Later, Mr. McMillian told Mr. Chauvin, “You have a good night, you go home safe to your family and let other people do the same.”

Miles away from the courtroom, the toll of Wednesday’s testimony could also be felt. Customers and employees inside Cup Foods put their shopping and working on pause to watch the trial on a television mounted above an A.T.M.

“This is the first time I’ve seen this footage — it was seized the morning after,” said Mike Abumayyaleh, who owns Cup Foods along with his brothers.

As they served up wings and gyros during the lunchtime rush, clerks kept an eye on the television. Some cried during Mr. McMillian’s testimony.

“It’s too much,” one of the clerks said.

Billy Abumayyaleh, one of the owners, said his son, a clerk, then 14, was seen in the surveillance video that was played in court. He has not had his son back working at the store since Mr. Floyd’s death.

“He’s at home watching now,” he said. “He’s traumatized. We all are.”

The proceedings seemed to be a struggle even for the jurors.

Mr. Martin’s testimony in the morning had to be abruptly halted when one of the jurors fell ill. After a 20-minute break, the juror took the stand without the other jurors in the courtroom. She explained to Judge Peter A. Cahill that she had suffered what the judge called a “stress-related reaction.”

“I’m shaky, but better,” the juror said, explaining that she had been having trouble sleeping and had been awake since 2 a.m.

The juror, a white woman in her 50s, had been identified during jury selection as a health care nonprofit executive and a single mother of two. When asked during jury selection if the police treated Black people and white people equally, she said no and added of Mr. Floyd, “He didn’t deserve to die.”

John Eligon, Shaila Dewan and Tim Arango reported from Minneapolis, and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs from New York. Matt Furber contributed reporting from Minneapolis.

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