MINNEAPOLIS — Lawyers in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin found three more people Thursday who said they could set aside their knowledge of George Floyd’s death and serve as impartial jurors.
Wednesday, the court replaced two jurors who were cut because they said they were influenced by the city’s historic $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family. The court did not select any jurors Tuesday amid debate over whether they could be unbiased in such a high-profile case.
Thursday, after a week and a half of questioning prospective jurors on their views on discrimination, policing people of color and Black Lives Matter, lead defense attorney Eric Nelson told a prospective juror, “This case is not about race.”
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.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
- Six of the 12 jurors identify as white, two as multiracial and four as Black, according to the court. Five of the jurors are in their 20s or 30s, three in their 40s, three in their 50s and one in their 60s.
- Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and city attorney Jim Rowader said Thursday they don’t think the announcement of the civil settlement has had a negative effect on the trial.
- Court opened Thursday morning with debate on whether the prosecution can call a forensic psychiatrist to testify about Floyd’s behavior during the fatal encounter.
- The judge said he would rule Friday on the defense’s requests to move or delay the trial and to submit evidence evidence related to Floyd’s 2019 arrest.
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Defense attorney: ‘This case is not about race’
In his effort to find an impartial jury, lead defense attorney Eric Nelson has spent the past week and a half questioning potential jurors about their views on racism, discrimination, policing of communities of color and Black Lives Matter. But on Thursday, he told a prospective juror that the trial of Derek Chauvin is “not about race.”
Months ago, the court sent a 13-page questionnaire to people in the jury pool asking their opinions on various subjects, including: whether police officers are more likely to use force against people of color, whether people of color receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system, whether police in their community make them feel safe, and how they feel about the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements.
Attorneys for the defense and prosecution have prodded potential jurors to expand on their answers and explain their reasoning. That has spurred some lengthy conversations about their experiences with police and discrimination.
Thursday afternoon, one man said he didn’t believe Black and white people are treated equally in the criminal justice system. On his questionnaire, Nelson said, the man had written that he had discussed with friends “the militarization and systematic racism of policing in America.”
Nelson asked if the man believes an incident in which police stop a person of color is more likely to end “tragically.” The man said yes. He also said he would not believe a police officer’s testimony. The judge excused him from the jury.
Twelve jurors, five men and seven women, have been selected for Chauvin’s trial. 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. Six of the jurors identify as white, two as multiracial and four as Black, according to the court.
With Thursday’s picks, the court now needs just two alternates to serve on the jury.
A Black grandmother in her 60s was selected Thursday afternoon. She said she has a relative in the Minneapolis Police Department and used to live about 10 blocks from where Floyd died. She said she somewhat agrees that Black people and white people do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system.
A white woman in her 40s who works at an insurance company was selected next. She said she would be “terrified” if the Minneapolis Police Department were defunded, but there is “obvious change that needs to happen.”
“It does look like, from what’s portrayed in the media, is other races aren’t necessarily treated fairly,” she said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the defense has used 12 of its 18 peremptory challenges, which it can use to strike potential jurors without having to explain why. The state has used six of its 10.
After the court cut two jurors who said they were swayed by the city’s $27 million settlement with the Floyd family, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and city attorney Jim Rowader said Thursday they don’t think the proceedings have been hurt by the settlement.
Rowader said in a press conference the city decided to move forward with the settlement in part because there was “no guarantee” the deal would’ve been available weeks or months from now. He declined to elaborate.
“There is no good timing to settle any case, particularly one as complex and involved and sensitive as this,” he said. “It’s clear from the judge’s comments this week that he does not want us to talk about the settlement at this time while they’re finishing jury selection.”
In court, Nelson, the lead defense attorney, complained that the city had addressed the settlement at another press conference.
The prosecution brought it up again at the end of the day, spurring Cahill to angrily respond, “I’ve asked the City of Minneapolis to stop talking about it,” referring to the settlement.
“Everybody just stop talking about it,” Cahill said. “Let me decide what the ramifications are.”
Six of the eight potential jurors questioned Thursday said they knew about the settlement. All but one said that wouldn’t affect their impartiality.
The sixth said the settlement made him wonder whether Chauvin might be guilty. The judge dismissed him partly for that reason and because he was concerned about his safety if his identity were disclosed.
All three people seated Thursday knew the amount of the settlement.
Court opened Thursday morning with debate over whether the prosecution can call a forensic psychiatrist to testify about Floyd’s behavior during the fatal encounter.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said Dr. Sarah Vinson should be allowed to testify that Floyd’s reaction to the officers’ attempts to put him into a squad car were consistent with any reasonable person’s anxiety or panic during a traumatic event. The prosecution wants to show that Floyd may have been unable to comply with the officers’ orders, not that he was resisting arrest.
Nelson argued if the judge allows that, the defense should be allowed to present evidence regarding Floyd’s arrest for drug possession a year earlier. During that incident, Nelson said, Floyd did not resist getting into a squad car.
Cahill said he’ll rule on Vinson’s testimony on Friday, when he plans to issue a broader ruling on the admissibility of Floyd’s 2019 arrest and on defense motions for delaying and moving the trial.
Court cuts two jurors influenced by $27M settlement in Floyd death
Cahill opened court Wednesday by recalling the seven jurors seated last week and questioning them about their exposure to news of the civil settlement, which was announced Friday.
Four of the seven jurors told the judge they’d heard about the settlement. Another said his fiancee told him there had been a development regarding Floyd, but she hadn’t disclosed any details.
“That sticker price obviously shocked me and kind of swayed me a little bit,” said one juror, a Hispanic man in his 20s. The judge released him from the jury.
Another juror, a white man in his 30s, said the settlement was large. “I think it would be hard to be impartial,” he said. He, too, was excused.
One man said he heard the news on the radio, but “it hasn’t affected me at all because I don’t know the details.”
Another juror knew the settlement amount. She said she wasn’t surprised by the announcement as much as its timing. She said she could remain impartial and told the judge that if other jurors raised the issue during deliberations, she would tell them it’s “not part of the case.”
Cahill advised the remaining jurors to avoid the news as much as possible.
“We’re back down to seven jurors,” he said. “The jurors who remain on the jury, in my view, can remain fair and impartial.”
Contributing: The Associated Press