Derek Chauvin trial: Who is Eric Nelson? A look at the defense team to fight the George Floyd murder case

The historic case against Chauvin could pave the way for cops to finally face the music for race-based violence, but only if his defence falters.


                            Derek Chauvin trial: Who is Eric Nelson? A look at the defense team to fight the George Floyd murder case
Eric Nelson (Halberg Criminal Defense), Derek Chauvin (Ramsey County Sheriff's Office)

Derek Chauvin is on trial for his life. He's currently facing charges of third-degree murder, second-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. If he is convicted on even one, he could face up to 40 years in prison. At 45, that's as good as a life sentence for the former Minnesota Police officer. 

It's not just the punishment he faces, but the situation he is in. Chauvin is just one of the many White police officers who stand accused of race-based violence, but the brutal nature of George Floyd's death means that the spotlight is on him. A conviction on even one count would be a major win for millions of African-Americans, and civil rights activists. It could also open the floodgates for convictions against all the other officers who are facing trial. 

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That's why Chauvin's case is a big deal. To that end, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA) has ensured that Chauvin has the best defense available. The association has hired Eric Nelson to represent Chauvin, a man with "nerves of steel" and perhaps the ideal person to defend Chauvin in court. Why is he the ideal candidate? Here's a look at his profile, giving you an insight into who Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison will have to face. 

Eric Nelson arguing the case for Derek Chauvin (Court TV screenshot)

 

Who is Eric Nelson?

The 46-year-old Nelson has a solid reputation as a criminal defense attorney. He's represented clients charged with "homicide, sex offenses, drug offenses, assaults and hundreds of DWI and alcohol-related traffic offenses" according to Halberg Criminal Defense. The firm is where Nelson currently works and is reportedly one of the largest in the region. 

Nelson's LinkedIn profile lists his school as Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. He then went on to Eastern University in Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1996 with a BA in History. In 2000, he graduated from the Hamline University School of Law. Law seems to be a natural fit for Nelson, whose record proves that he doesn't rattle easily. He's successfully defended multiple people accused of criminal homicides, including Levi Acre-Kendall. In 2015, Kendall was found not guilty of stabbing death Peter Kelly, with Nelson arguing it was 'self-defense'. 

Prior to Chauvin, his most high-profile case was the defense of Amy Senser. Senser, the wife of former Minnesota Vikings player Joe Senser, was charged in a hit-and-run accident and tried in 2012. Unfortunately for Nelson, he wasn't able to get away with a big victory with that case. Senser was convicted and sentenced to 41 months in prison. However, that doesn't seem to have harmed his standing much. He's still quite sought-after by many in Minnesota. 

One of those key clients is the MPPOA, who has retained Nelson and 11 others to represent them in all their cases. MPPOA Executive Director Brian Peters told the Associated Press that to become an attorney on the rotation "is not very easy." "You are vetted very aggressively," he said. "That’s why we have 12 of the best defense attorneys on our panel." As one of the best, Nelson is the key to Chauvin's freedom.

Eric Nelson (Halberg Criminal Defense)

Who else is on the team?

Nelson isn't working alone, as the defense has a pretty strong team to back up its star player. The other three officers charged in the case  - Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane - all have their own attorneys assigned by the MPPOA. Nelson will consult with them, Peters told AP. If that's not enough, Nelson also has the remaining eight officers on the MPPOA panel to fall back on. “It may appear that it’s just Eric, but that is very far from the truth,” Peters said. 

That wealth of experience and brainpower will give Nelson the firepower he needs to take on the Minessota AG, who has his own team. The prosecution is bolstered by the presence of former U.S. acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal; former federal prosecutor Steven Schleicher; and Jerry Blackwell.

As one of the most vital cases in the state, and perhaps the country, Nelson will need all the help he can get. He's no doubt got it, but will it be enough to match the state of Minnesota? We will know shortly, as the trial begins. 

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