MINNEAPOLIS – Jury selection continued Wednesday in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in a case that rocked the country and spurred worldwide protests after George Floyd’s death.
The court heard from 10 prospective jurors on Tuesday and seated three. For hours, lawyers questioned potential jurors about their knowledge of the high-profile case, the protests and Floyd’s death, questioning whether they could set aside any existing opinions to serve impartially.
The prospective jurors thus far ranged from eager to fearful, some expressing safety concerns about serving on such a high-profile and divisive case, especially if their identity became public.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd last May. Prosecutors contend Floyd, 46, was killed by Chauvin’s knee, compressed against Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes while he was handcuffed and pinned to the pavement.
Three weeks have been set aside to choose the jury. Opening statements are scheduled for March 29.
- Three jurors were seated Tuesday: Two men and a woman of color. They were vetted about whether they’d seen the footage of Chauvin restraining Floyd, their perception of police officers and various advocate groups, like Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives matter.
- Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill and the lawyers asked potential jurors about their previous knowledge of the case, whether they’ve seen it on the news and how they responded to a 13-page questionnaire.
- Prosecutors challenged the defense Tuesday afternoon after the defense struck a second potential juror who is Hispanic. The judge denied that the strike was race-based and upheld it.
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Chauvin’s lawyer argues against testimony of police conspiracy
Lawyers started the day Wednesday discussing several potential issues ahead of Derek Chauvin’s trial, from descriptions of George Floyd’s character to the potential for prosecutors to paint officers with the Minneapolis Police Department as being part of a conspiracy to back a fellow officer.
Judge Peter Cahill ruled prosecutors could use testimony from a witness who observed Chauvin holding Floyd down with his knee. Cahill said the witness, who has about 10 years of martial arts experience, could testify about his expertise, training and the position Chauvin had Floyd in. But, the judge ruled, he couldn’t testify his thoughts on whether the position killed Floyd because that requires a medical opinion.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, also asked Cahill to prevent prosecutors from painting fellow officers and the Minneapolis Police Department as part of some “sort of conspiracy of police officers to remain silent and not cooperate with investigations of other police officers.”
Prosecutors said the police department had been cooperative with the case and there were no plans to do so but said the issue of potential bias could arise during the trial.
There were also discussions about character witnesses of Floyd. Cahill said he would not allow testimony calling Floyd a “gentle giant” because such statements would open the door to the “propensity for violence or propensity for peacefulness.”
Three jurors have thus far been selected to serve on the jury in Derek Chauvin’s trial.
An outdoorsy chemist, who worked for many years as a camp counselor through his childhood synagogue, was the first juror to be seated by the court Tuesday.
The self-described “advocate of community policing” said he believes “all lives matter equally.” He said he has not seen the video of Floyd’s death but visited the site where he died when he and his fiancé were thinking of moving to the general area.
The second juror seated in the trial is a woman of color with Type 1 diabetes from northern Minnesota. She told the court she was “super excited” to be called for jury duty. “That’s actually why I voted,” she said. “I was just excited to be summoned.”
The woman said her uncle is a police officer in northern Minnesota but that she believed she could be an impartial juror. Asked by the defense about her experience in martial arts, the woman said she had “no extensive” training but was once in a class where she was briefly put in some form of chokehold. The woman said she had seen the video of Floyd’s killing once.
The last juror who was seated Tuesday was a man who told the court he was friends with a Minneapolis Police officer but had a fairly negative view of the Blue Lives Matter movement.
The man, who told the court he worked as an auditor, said he had a negative view of Chauvin because of media coverage of Floyd’s death but vowed to view the charges and case against him separately. He said while he supports the Black Lives Matter movement, he disagreed on some of the group’s actions.
He said he’d seen the footage of Floyd’s death several times in the news media.
Two Hispanic jurors were struck from serving on the jury leading to prosecutors raising concerns over whether the eliminations were because of race.
After a Hispanic man originally from Southern California, who told the court he does martial arts and Jujutsu, became the second potential Hispanic juror struck by the defense Tuesday afternoon, state prosecutors raised what is called a Batson challenge.
A Batson challenge is made by one party in a case to the other party’s use of peremptory challenges to eliminate potential jurors on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity or religion.
Judge Peter Cahill, however, denied the challenge., saying the defense had raised a “race neutral” reason for striking the martial artist – that, based on his own training, he had opinions about some of the moves the cops used and would have to be proved wrong. That would improperly shift the burden of proof to the defense, the judge said.
George Floyd’s cousin, Shareeduh McGee Tate, sat in the courtroom Tuesday during the all-day jury selection process and left feeling grateful for the amount of effort that is going into vetting prospective jurors.
“I’m just really grateful for being able to sit in and be a part of the process,” she said. “I appreciate that there’s a lot of time and effort being taken to be sure the right jurors being seated. It’s a long process but I think it’s worth getting it right the first time.”
McGee Tate, who traveled from Houston to be with her family and watch the proceedings, said she’d known Floyd since he was born and were close growing up.
She said the proceedings will “probably get pretty rough for us” when the trial begins in earest, noting they will likely have to see autopsy information and reports from the medical examiner.
“We are a strong body of believers and we have a strong faith and a strong family unit,” she said. “I’m confident we’ll be able to get through it just like we have up to this point.”
Only one family member is allowed in the courtroom each day for both Floyd and Chauvin. Floyd’s family says they’re operating in a rotation during the proceedings.