MINNEAPOLIS – A judge in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin granted prosecutors’ request to add a third-degree murder charge Thursday, giving the jury more options as it considers Chauvin’s culpability in the death of George Floyd.
Chauvin is also charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd in 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.
Jury selection continued Thursday following debate on the new charge. Potential jurors were being questioned about their knowledge of the case and the protests over Floyd’s death and asked whether they can set aside any existing opinions to serve impartially.
Thus far, six jurors have been chosen. A few seemed eager; others fearful, some expressing safety concerns about serving on such a high-profile and divisive case, especially if their identity became public. Many had established clear opinions on the events that led to Chauvin’s arrest, but some didn’t follow the specifics on what led to Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests and riots.
- Six jurors – five men and one woman – have been selected so far. Three of the jurors identify as white, one as multiracial, one as Hispanic and one as Black, according to the judge.
- Hennepin County District Judge Peter 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.
- The judge has set aside at least three weeks for jury selection. Opening statements are scheduled no sooner than March 29.
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Protesters say they plan to demonstrate every day of trial
There were nearly a dozen people across from the Hennepin County Government Center on Third Ave S. Thursday afternoon. “Black Lives Matter” flags lined the top of structure where several people sat on a bench. Nearby, a person played a small drum.
A 43-year-old man from Red Wing, Chaz Neal, said he has been by the courthouse every day since Monday. Neal held a portrait of Floyd wearing a blue sweatshirt on an orange background. Neal said when the trial started, he told himself he would be there “to the very end,” and is concerned about the makeup of the jury. “Those are going to be his peers up there,” Neal said.
Rhea Smykalski, a 33-year-old Minneapolis resident, was sitting on the edge of the sidewalk with a cardboard sign reading “Honk for George Floyd.” For around three to five hours a day, Smykalski demonstrates by the government center because Minneapolis has “seen too many murders.” Smykalski said Floyd’s name is “not even the last name on the list.”
“We’re still demanding justice,” Smykalski said.
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.
Thursday afternoon, when the defense struck another Hispanic prospective juror – at least the third Hispanic person 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, citing the makeup of the jury.
The state issued their first Batson challenge Tuesday, when the defense struck a second Hispanic prospective juror.
The court seated its sixth juror Thursday morning. The man, a self-described fan of true crime shows, noted in his pre-trial questionnaire that he “somewhat disagreed” the criminal justice system is biased against minorities.
Among the other five: a Black man who immigrated from Africa to the U.S., a chemist, 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 man who is likely being forced to cancel his wedding to serve on the jury.
One prospective juror, a single mother of two, on Thursday said she could not “unsee” the viral video of Floyd’s death and that re-watching the video would be “traumatizing.” The defense moved to strike her from the jury and the prosecution opposed the move, but the judge ultimately granted the strike.
Minneapolis officials say city is working to open intersection where George Floyd memorial is located
Minneapolis officials told residents in a press conference Thursday morning that the city is working to reopen the intersection where the George Floyd memorial site is located. The intersection, at 38th Street and Chicago, has been closed since late May.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the intersection is “a very critical healing and gathering space” but that the surrounding neighborhood is struggling because of crime taking place around the intersection. One person was killed and another person was injured in a shooting at the site on Saturday night, authorities said.
Frey said a survey was sent to surrounding neighborhoods to vote on the outcome of the space. Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said it is possible to find a way to open the site while still paying tribute to it.
“As you may know, I grew up a block and a half from 38th and Chicago,” Arradondo said. “While we need to make sure that intersection stays respectful … At the same time, that community has to get back toward thriving.”
Frey thanked those who peacefully protested earlier this week and said the city will continue to provide updates to residents as the trial progresses. Arradondo said the city’s unified planning for security, called Operation Safety Net, is in its second phase, which surrounds jury selection. Residents can expect a visible increase of resources during phase three, when a verdict is possible, Arradondo said.
Judge reinstates 3rd-degree murder charge
Judge Peter Cahill opened Thursday’s proceedings by hearing arguments on reinstating a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, ultimately granting prosecutors’ request to reinstate it. Legal observers say the new charge gives the jury more options as it considers Chauvin’s culpability in Floyd’s death.
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.
And on Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Chauvin that aimed to prevent the additional charge. The unusual, expedited decision by the state’s high court enables jury selection to continue with just a hiccup in the proceedings rather than a delay of weeks or months while it considered an appeal.
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 the three other officers 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.
Contributing: The Associated Press