MINNEAPOLIS – The racial tensions hanging over the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin have emerged as a crucial sticking point in determining the jury who will decide his fate in the death of George Floyd.
So far, five of the six jurors selected are men. Three of the jurors identify as white, one as multiracial, one as Hispanic and one as Black, according Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill who is presiding over the case.
Chauvin’s attorneys have struck at least three jurors who are Hispanic throughout the week, something that spurred prosecutors to twice use Batson challenges. Such challenges claim that a potential juror was eliminated on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity or religion. The judge denied both challenges and denied there was any pattern of striking potential jurors on the basis of race.
Meanwhile, Cahill allowed prosecutors to reinstate a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin — something legal observers say will give the jury more options as it considers the former officer’s culpability in Floyd’s death.
The charge accompanies the second-degree murder and manslaughter charges Chauvin already faced in Floyd’s death last May, when Chauvin was seen on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as Floyd cried out that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd, who was accused of using a a counterfeit $20 bill, was handcuffed and pinned to the pavement.
- Jury selection was scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. CT Friday. The judge has set aside at least three weeks for jury selection. Opening statements are scheduled no sooner than March 29.
- Cahill and lawyers over the week have 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.
- Protesters say they plan to demonstrate each day of the trial. Across from the Hennepin County courthouse on Thursday, demonstrators carried signs and portraits of Floyd.
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Here’s who has been seated on the jury for Chauvin’s trial
Six jurors – five men and one woman – have been chosen thus far to serve during Derek Chauvin’s trial. Three of the jurors self-identify as white, one as multiracial, one as Hispanic and one as Black, according to the judge. 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 sure to be a concern.
Among the jurors selected: a Black man who immigrated from Africa to the U.S., a chemist, 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 and a groom who is likely being forced to cancel his wedding to serve on the jury.
The court will need to seat a total of 12 jurors and two alternates.
Thursday afternoon, when the defense struck another Hispanic prospective juror – at least the third Hispanic juror struck by the defense – prosecutors issued their second Batson challenge, which claims that a potential juror has been eliminated on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity or religion. The judge denied the challenge.
“I see no pattern whatsoever from the defense of striking racial minorities,” Cahill said.
The state issued their first Batson challenge Tuesday, when the defense struck a second Hispanic prospective juror.
Judge reinstates 3rd-degree murder charge, giving jury more options in case
Cahill had earlier rejected the charge as not warranted by the circumstances of Floyd’s death, but an appellate court ruling in an unrelated case established new grounds for it.
The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected an appeal on Wednesday by Chauvin that aimed to prevent the additional charge, opening the door for it to be reinstated.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is leading the prosecution, said in a statement the addition of the charge “reflects the gravity of the allegations against Mr. Chauvin.”
“We look forward to presenting all three charges to the jury,” he said.
Cahill also noted that the reinstatement of the third-degree murder charge does not apply to three other officers who have been charged in Floyd’s death. They are scheduled for trial this summer, and possible third degree charges in that case would be addressed at a later time, the judge said.
Background:Minnesota Supreme Court rejects Derek Chauvin appeal, opening door for another murder charge in George Floyd’s death