MINNEAPOLIS — After eight days of intense questioning about political biases, racism and policing, 12 jurors have been seated for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with two counts of murder for the death of George Floyd.
The court now needs to select two alternates to round out the jury. Motions by Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer for a delay and to move the trial outside the Twin Cities are pending, possibly jeopardizing the scheduled start of opening statements on March 29.
Judge Peter A. Cahill of Hennepin County District Court, who is overseeing the case, has said he would rule Friday on both matters. But, with the 12 jurors already seated, legal experts said it was unlikely he would, at this point, delay the proceedings or move the case to another jurisdiction.
From the start, many worried that it would be impossible to seat an impartial jury in Minneapolis for a case that provoked wide-scale unrest and reverberated around the world, inspiring the largest mass movement for civil rights since the 1960s. Mr. Chauvin, who is white, kept his knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd, a Black man, for more than nine minutes on a street corner in South Minneapolis last May. As he lay pressed to the concrete, Mr. Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe.
The 12-person jury is composed of seven women and five men. The panel includes four Black people, six white people and two jurors who identify as multiracial. There is also a wide range of ages among the jurors, with the oldest person a Black grandmother in her 60s; the youngest are two people, a white man and a biracial woman, in their 20s.
At the outset, many legal experts and activists expressed concern about the possibility of an all-white — or nearly all-white — jury, saying that diversity was necessary for the trial to be accepted within the Black community as legitimate.
“I really worried before we started the trial that there would be almost no minority representation on the jury at all just based on things I’ve seen in the past,” Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor who is a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., said. “It looks like at least that will not be a part of this.”
Jury selection had been scheduled to last at least three weeks, but it has moved along quickly, despite the recent announcement that Minneapolis agreed to pay the Floyd family $27 million to settle a lawsuit. The news prejudiced some potential jurors who said they could no longer presume Mr. Chauvin innocent, but others said it would have no bearing on their ability to be fair in the case.
In court after the settlement was announced, Eric J. Nelson, Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, said he was “gravely concerned” that news of the payout could taint jurors, and Judge Cahill has said the timing of settlement was “unfortunate.”
At the end of court on Thursday, as lawyers for both sides argued about city officials continuing to talk publicly about the payout to the Floyd family, Judge Cahill was clearly exasperated, saying, “I’ve asked Minneapolis to stop talking about it.”
The publicity from the settlement is the basis for Mr. Nelson’s motions for a delay and to move the trial that Judge Cahill will rule on Friday morning.
Over the last two weeks, lawyers questioned prospective jurors about what they knew of the case, whether they had seen a widely circulated bystander video of Mr. Floyd’s death, their political biases, their media habits — and, especially, their views on racism and policing in America.
Despite the video and the public outrage it stirred, a conviction is no sure thing, and Minneapolis is girding for unrest, with the National Guard on standby, should there be an acquittal. Police officers rarely face criminal charges for killings on duty, and convictions are even rarer.
Mr. Chauvin is charged with second-degree and third-degree murder, as well as manslaughter. A conviction on the most serious charge carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison, while a conviction for third-degree murder could result in a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.
Understand the George Floyd Case
- On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, after a convenience store clerk claimed he used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.
- Mr. Floyd died after Derek Chauvin, one of the police officers, handcuffed him and pinned him to the ground with a knee, an episode that was captured on video.
- Mr. Floyd’s death set off a series of nationwide protests against police brutality.
- Mr. Chauvin was fired from Minneapolis police force along with three other officers. He has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and now faces trial, which is likely to begin the week of March 8.
- Here is what we know up to this point in the case, and how the trial is expected to unfold.
Mr. Nelson’s defense, as laid out in pretrial motions and arguments, will focus on trying to prove Mr. Floyd died of a drug overdose — toxicology reports showed he had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system — that was complicated by his underlying health conditions.
Mr. Nelson is seeking to admit into evidence the details of a prior interaction between Mr. Floyd and Minneapolis police officers, almost one year before his death, in which he allegedly ingested drugs and acted erratically. Judge Cahill is expected to decide Friday whether he will allow the evidence at trial.
The jurors who have been seated generally expressed middle-of-the-road views on the issues at the center of the case: race, policing and the way the criminal justice system treats members of minorities.
The first juror selected, last week, was a white man in his 20s, a former camp counselor who works as a chemist and is the only juror seated on the panel who said he had not seen the bystander video of Mr. Floyd’s death in police custody. The man said that his background in science meant that “I rely on facts and logic and what’s in front of me.”
Juror 52, a Black man in his 30s who was seated on Monday, said that he had not watched the entire bystander video of Mr. Floyd’s death, and that he did not believe that Mr. Chauvin “set out to murder anyone,” but wondered why the other three officers on the scene did not intervene.
The man, who works in banking and coaches youth sports, said he wanted to serve on the jury. “This is the most historic case of my lifetime and I would love to be a part of it,” he wrote in his jury questionnaire.
Each day, jurors have filed into the heavily fortified Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis, ringed by high fencing and razor wire and guarded by soldiers.
To a person, nearly all of the jurors expressed fear, surprise and trepidation about playing a role in a case that has opened deep racial wounds in the city, and sitting on a trial that will be televised around the world, a first for Minnesota.
An exception was Juror 9, a woman in her 20s who grew up in northern Minnesota, has an uncle who is a police officer and identifies as mixed race. She said she was “super-excited” when she received her jury notice and the lengthy questionnaire about the case late last year. She added, “I just find the whole jury court process fascinating, period.”
Source: Read Full Article