MINNEAPOLIS — The second week of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kicked off Monday morning with arguments over the the stunning news Friday of a $27 million settlement in George Floyd’s death.
The arguments centered on whether the news, which happened amid the jury selection process, may have impacted the impartiality of the jury pool in Chauvin’s trial. Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said he would consider delaying the proceedings and ordered the seven jurors be brought back before the court and questioned about their exposure to the news.
Cahill, along with lawyers for defense and prosecution, have been asking 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. Twelve jurors and two alternatives will be selected.
Many prospective jurors last week expressed concerns about potentially serving on such a high-profile case, and some said they had already formed opinions about Chauvin based on what they had seen in videos of George Floyd’s death.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, and the judge allowed prosecutors to reinstate a third-degree murder charge last week.
Floyd 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, who was Black, cried out “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times. The incident sparked protests worldwide.
- The first potential juror questioned Monday was excused after immediately noting headlines Friday about city leaders approving a $27 million civil settlement in Floyd’s death — something the potential juror said came off as an admission of guilt and that the city could not win the lawsuit. The issue is something Chauvin’s attorneys raised as potentially preventing a fair trial.
- Seven jurors were selected last week. Four of the jurors identify as white, one as multiracial, one as Hispanic and one as Black, according Judge Cahill. Six of the jurors are in their 20s or 30s, and one is in her 50s.
- Ben Crump, the lead attorney for the Floyd family, said Friday he was following jury selection and hoped to see jurors seated “that will respect George Floyd and not devalue him because he was a Black man.”
- 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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7 jurors will be recalled, questioned about settlement news
The defense in the Derek Chauvin trial asked for a continuance, that jurors be recalled, and for extra strikes during voir dire due to the announcement Friday that the family of George Floyd had settled with Minneapolis for $27 million — a record in the area.
Judge Peter Cahill said he would consider delaying the proceedings but denied that Chauvin’s attorneys would be given additional strikes, used to eliminate potential jurors. He also ruled the seven jurors already seated should be recalled to ask about their exposure to the news.
Cahill said he was “disturbed” by the timing of the city’s announcement, but that he does “not believe there was any evil intent” by the state to coordinate with city leaders, including Mayor Jacob Frey, to announce the settlement now and infect the jury’s impartiality.
Chauvin’s lead attorney, Eric Nelson, called the timing “profoundly disturbing” and said, “The goal of this system is to provide a fair trial. And this is not fair.”
Seven jurors – five men and two women – have been chosen thus far to serve during Derek 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. Four of the jurors self-identify as white, one as multiracial, one as Hispanic and one as Black, according to the judge.
Among the jurors selected: a 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 will likely have to cancel his wedding to serve on the jury.
The seventh juror, a single mother of two teenage boys in her 50s, was seated Friday afternoon. She said she has had contact with the Minnesota attorney general in the past because of her advocacy work but that this would have no impact on her decision-making in the trial.
The court will need to seat a total of 12 jurors and two alternates.
Contributing: Grace Hauck, Kevin McCoy, N’dea Yancey-Bragg