MINNEAPOLIS – The jurors seated last week in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin were expected to reappear Wednesday before the presiding judge, who planned to question them on their knowledge of the city’s $27 million settlement with George Floyd’s family.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill ordered the seven jurors to be brought back via Zoom and questioned briefly about their exposure to the news Friday over concerns the development may impact the partiality of the jury pool.
Nine of the 12 jurors have been seated so far; two alternates will also be selected. The court did not seat any new jurors Tuesday, and the parties spent much of the day debating whether potential jurors were being truthful when they said they could be impartial, given their media exposure to the case.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder — which was added last week — and second-degree manslaughter.
Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody on May 25, 2020, when Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. As he lay on the ground under Chauvin, Floyd cried out “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times. The incident sparked protests worldwide.
- The seven jurors seated last week were scheduled to appear before the judge on Zoom starting at 8:45 a.m. CT Wednesday to discuss their knowledge of the city’s settlement. At least four prospective jurors Tuesday said they’d heard about the settlement.
- Jury selection was expected to resume at 9:30 CT Wednesday, the judge said.
- The judge said Tuesday he was still considering change of venue and continuance and that the defense’s motion to sequester the jury was denied.
- The judge said he planned to rule Thursday on whether the jury would be allowed to hear any evidence evidence related to Floyd’s 2019 arrest.
- Of the nine jurors selected to serve on Chauvin’s trial. five of the jurors identify as white, one as multiracial, one as Hispanic and two as Black, according to the court. Seven of the jurors are in their 20s or 30s, and two are in their 50s.
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No new jurors selected Tuesday
The court ran through seven prospective jurors Tuesday, selecting none. The judge excused two for concerns about the financial hardship they would face if they were out of work or away from their homes. He dismissed one for lack of credibility and two who he believed could not be impartial.
The defense struck two jurors Tuesday, and the team’s ability to rule out jurors was dwindling. Chauvin’s lead attorney, Eric Nelson, expressed frustration after several prospective jurors told the court they were aware of the settlement news.
Of 16 prospective jurors interviewed by the court since the settlement was announced Friday afternoon, five said they saw news about it, and four said they believed they could still be impartial. But none of those five were selected for the jury.
“The pretrial publicity is just so concerning,” Nelson said, asking the judge to excuse any prospective jurors who claim knowledge of the settlement.
But the judge denied the defense’s request and said he believed prospective jurors were capable of setting aside what they’ve seen in the news. “The $27 million settlement is unfortunate,” Cahill said. “It is something to consider. But let’s face it, it’s not just a legal decision, it’s a political decision, and I think people realize that.”
A look at Derek Chauvin’s jury so far
Nine jurors — six men and three women — have been selected so far to serve during Derek Chauvin’s trial. The court will need to seat a total of 12 jurors and two alternates.
Given the circumstances of Floyd’s death – a Black man dying under the knee of a white police officer – the racial makeup of the jury is a key concern. Five of the jurors identify as white, one as multiracial, one as Hispanic and two as Black, according to the court.
Among the jurors selected: a man who immigrated from Africa to the U.S., a chemist, a man who works in banking and teaches youth sports, a mother of two who worried for her safety in serving on the case, a man who said he somewhat disagreed the criminal justice system is biased against minorities, a woman who said she was “super excited” to serve, a man who said he had a fairly negative view of Blue Lives Matter, a single mother of two and a groom who will likely have to cancel his wedding to serve on the jury.
Judge weighs whether jury can hear evidence related to prior arrest
The defense and prosecution debated Tuesday over whether the jury will be able to hear evidence from a May 2019 arrest of Floyd that Chauvin’s attorney said bore “remarkable similarities” to the May 2020 arrest that led to Floyd’s death.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill ruled in January that evidence related to the 2019 arrest could not be brought up at trial. But Chauvin’s attorney moved Tuesday to admit some related evidence, in light of new documents from the federal government’s ongoing civil rights investigation. Prosecutors said the defense was trying to “smear” Floyd. The judge said he’d take the matter under review.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson said Floyd had a “pattern” of dealing with arrests by injecting drugs, acting out and ignoring medical advice that he could die or have a stroke due to his history of high blood pressure.
The state said the defense was simply trying to “smear” Floyd, who had a history of drug addiction and was making efforts to battle it. “It tells us a lot about the real motivations behind this,” said prosecutor Matthew Frank. “The desperation of the defense to sort of smear Mr. Floyd’s character by showing that … he struggled with an opiate and opioid addiction like so many Americans do.”
The judge, who said he would weigh the arguments overnight if not longer, all but signaled he would not let the defense use the argument that Floyd showed a legal pattern of “habit” based on just two incidents that are not identical. The judge said medical evidence from the May 2019 arrest might be introduced, but not the “emotional.”