MINNEAPOLIS — The second week of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kicked off Monday morning with arguments over 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 that had been selected last week be brought back before the court and questioned about their exposure to the news.
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.
- Nine jurors have been selected to serve on Chauvin’s trial. Five of the jurors identify as white, one as multiracial, one as Hispanic and two as Black, according to the court. Seven of the jurors are in their 20s or 30s, and two are in their 50s.
- 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.
- 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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Jurors will be recalled, questioned about settlement news
The defense in the Derek Chauvin trial asked for a continuance, that jurors seated before Monday 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 seated before Monday 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.”
Two additional jurors were selected Monday to serve on Derek Chauvin’s trial, bringing the total seated thus far to nine. The two jurors, a white woman in her 50s and a Black man in his 30s, will join seven others who were selected last week.
The man works in banking and also coaches youth sports. He said he’d seen what appeared to be police violence in the past — a kid being body slammed by police, as well as someone being maced “for not following orders quick enough.” But that would not weigh on his attitude toward the trial, or swing him for or against Chauvin, he said.
He didn’t have strong views on Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter, saying only that he believed Blue Lives Matter was crafted mostly to counter against Black Lives Matter.
The woman, a mother of two who works as an assistant in the health care field, said she worried about her safety but was relived to hear the names of jurors would not be released immediately.
She told the court she had a negative view of Chauvin because she believed officers could have handled the situation differently, but also said she had a negative view of the protests after Floyd’s death because some of the riots came close to her community. The woman said she’d witnessed what she described as police harassing a young man in the park last year and when she approached the scene, an officer told her repeatedly to back up. She said the directions made her feel like she “didn’t matter.”
Along with the pair, seven other jurors – five men and two women – have been chosen to serve during 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 two as Black, according to the court.
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, a single mother of two and a groom who will likely have to cancel his wedding to serve on the jury.
The court will need to seat a total of 12 jurors and two alternates.
Early Monday, Judge Peter Cahill ruled that a forensic psychologist, who is testifying for the state, could talk about Floyd’s movements and actions in the video footage of his arrest and whether they are consistent with someone who has anxiety or is claustrophobic. But Cahill said he would think about whether that extended to testimony about PTSD and whether that might get too far into what Floyd was thinking or experiencing.
Cahill ruled in another motion that medical experts could not get into anecdotal evidence about patients they’ve seen, arguing such examples may be rare or odd but that experts would be able to talk generally about their experience treating patients.
Cahill also issued a split decision on another motion, allowing some testimony from another doctor, Dr. David Fowler, a forensic pathologist who is set to testify about Floyd’s death and who formerly served as Maryland’s chief medical examiner.
Cahill said the state could not exclude some testimony from Fowler based on his consultation with experts about Floyd’s death that fell outside his scope as a forensic pathologist charged with determining Floyd’s cause and manner of death.
Fowler will be allowed to testify what is within his scope. Also, if Fowler testifies to other experts’ opinions, the state will be able to question if that was his, or their, opinion. Sundeep Iyer, one of the prosecutors, had said this should not be allowed.
Contributing: Grace Hauck, Kevin McCoy, N’dea Yancey-Bragg