MINNEAPOLIS – Two more jurors were chosen Wednesday in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, replacing two who were cut because they said they couldn’t be impartial after hearing about the city’s historic $27 million settlement with George Floyd’s family.
“We’re back where we started this morning, but it’s better than being behind,” Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said.
Cahill opened Wednesday by questioning seven jurors seated last week about their exposure to news of the civil settlement, which was announced Friday. Two jurors – a Hispanic man in his 20s and white man in his 30s – said they were swayed by the announcement, particularly the dollar amount. Cahill cut them from the jury.
Wednesday afternoon, the court seated a Black man in his 40s and a white woman in her 40s. Nine of 12 jurors have been seated so far; two alternates will also be selected.
Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody on May 25, 2020, after 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.
- Five of the nine jurors identify as white, one as multiracial and three as Black, according to the court. Five of the jurors are in their 20s or 30s, two in their 40s and two in their 50s.
- The seven jurors seated last week appeared in court via Zoom on Wednesday morning to discuss their knowledge of the city’s settlement. Four said they had heard about it.
- The judge was visibly angry Wednesday morning about reporting the day before that described security arrangements on the floor where the trial is taking place. He threatened to close the courtroom to media if they acted irresponsibly. The media has two seats, one for print and one for TV. News outlets take turns reporting from the courtroom and share their work.
- The judge said he was would rule Friday on the defense’s requests to move and delay the trial and to submit evidence related to Floyd’s 2019 arrest.
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Two more jurors chosen
After no jurors were chosen Tuesday and two were cut Wednesday morning, the court seated two Wednesday afternoon.
Nine jurors — five men and four women — have been selected so far. 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 and three as Black, according to the court.
The eighth juror, seated Wednesday, is a Black man in his 40s who said he is originally from outside the U.S. but has lived in Hennepin County for nearly two decades. He said he supports the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements but does not support defunding the police. He said he was aware of the city’s $27 million settlement, but “it will not influence my judgment or opinion.”
The ninth juror is a white woman in her 40s who said she works in company reorganization and has a young child. She said she saw headlines about the civil settlement, but she doesn’t think it “declares guilt one way or another.”
Among the otherjurors 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 about her safety in serving on the jury, a woman who said she was “super excited” to serve, a single mother of two, and a groom who will likely have to postpone his wedding to serve on the jury.
One potential juror was visibly distressed in the courtroom Wednesday afternoon as she said her daughter was killed in the same area where Floyd died. Cahill dismissed her almost immediately. “She was even wiping a tear as she left, so this is obviously traumatic for her,” he said.
The pace of jury selection slowed to a crawl Wednesday, and it was unclear how many much longer it would take.
The court seated seven jurors over four days last week, putting it on track to wrap up jury selection by Thursday afternoon. But after two jurors were chosen on Monday, none were seated Tuesday.
“We’re grinding to a halt,” Cahill said Tuesday as he noted the rising number of potential jurors who had been stricken for cause. He appeared visibly frustrated Wednesday after excusing the jurors because the settlement had influenced them.
Wednesday afternoon, Cahill gave three more peremptory challenges to the defense and one to the state. With those, the defense has used 12 of its 18 peremptory challenges, which they can use to strike potential jurors without having to explain why. The state has used five of its 10.
The defense used its 12th strike Wednesday on a Black man who expressed views critical of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Four of the seven jurors seated last week told the judge they’d heard about the city of Minneapolis’ $27 million civil settlement with George Floyd’s family. 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 exact settlement amount, but 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.”
No new jurors selected Tuesday
Lawyers questioned seven prospective jurors Tuesday but none made the cut. Cahill excused two for concerns about the financial hardship they would face if they were out of work or away from their homes during the trial, which could last a month. He dismissed one for lack of credibility and two whom he believed could not be impartial.
The defense struck two jurors Tuesday, leaving four strikes with which to strike other jurors without having to explain why. Chauvin’s lead attorney, Eric Nelson, expressed frustration after several prospective jurors told the court they were aware of the settlement.
Of 16 prospective jurors interviewed between the announcement Friday and Tuesday afternoon, five said they saw news about it, and four said they believed they could still be impartial. None of those five were selected for the jury, though some were excused for other reasons
“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.”