MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Jury selection in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of murdering George Floyd, was paused for at least a day on Monday, just as the process was scheduled to begin.
The start of the trial is now in the hands of the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court due to an issue about whether the additional charge of third-degree murder can be added against Chauvin.
Last week, the court of appeals told Judge Peter Cahill to reconsider adding the charge against Chauvin, who had initially been charged with it, before Cahill dropped it last fall, citing probable cause.
Prosecutors appealed that decision, and the appellate court told Cahill that he must make a ruling that is consistent with the precedent set in the case of Mohamed Noor. In 2019, Noor, also a former Minneapolis police officer, was convicted of third-degree murder for the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
Chauvin, wearing a navy blue suit and a black mask, showed no emotion Monday as he sat near defense attorney Eric Nelson during the hearing. At the end of the day’s proceedings, Judge Cahill said he intends to move forward with jury selection at 9 a.m. Tuesday unless a decision from the court of appeals delays it further.
Monday morning, Nelson said that he would appeal the appellate court’s decision last week to the supreme court. In response, prosecutors asked Judge Cahill to delay the start of the trial until the appeals process was complete.
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Initially, Cahill said that jury selection will move forward as scheduled on Monday. However, the potential jurors were soon sent home after prosecutors said they would ask the appeals court to intervene. Later in the morning, prosecutors filed a motion to stay court proceedings, arguing that Cahill doesn’t have the authority to proceed with the trial while the defense is appealing the third-degree murder charge decision. Prosecutor Matthew Frank insisted the prosecution did not want to delay the trial, despite asking for the delay.
“We want to try this case, but we want to try it right, and we only have the ability to try it once,” Frank said.
Both the defense and the judge seemed skeptical of the move.
“Are we, as Mr. Frank has said, limited to, we essentially have to shut everything down and wait?” Judge Cahill said.
“No, your honor. I actually think that the rules of criminal procedure are very clear on the point,” Nelson said.
In another surprising moment, Nelson said months after the fatal encounter, his team found methamphetamine and fentanyl in the police squad car that had Floyd’s DNA on it. Investigators had apparently overlooked it. The defense is trying to bring in as much evidence of Floyd’s alleged drug use as possible.
“We now know for a fact that there were drugs that were in the car. We know that there were drugs in the squad car that contained Mr. Floyd’s DNA,” Nelson said.
When the defense attorney brought up the issue of drugs, Floyd’s sister Bridgett — his family’s lone representative in the courtroom on Monday — walked out, but later returned. Monday was the first time she came face-to-face with the man accused of killing her brother. She later spoke to the media about her experience.
“I sat in the courtroom today and looked at the officer who took my brother’s life. I just really wanted that officer to know how much love Floyd had. Not only by me and his family, but you guys, too, and the people around the country,” Floyd said. “I want you guys to continue to pray for our family because we need it.”
The issue of Floyd’s alleged drug use is expected to be sharply contested by the prosecution, who will argue it was Chauvin — not drugs in Floyd’s body — that killed George Floyd.
Criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino, who is not affiliated with the case, called Monday’s developments “bizarre” and “highly unusual.” He said that it’s unlikely that prosecutors will get the court of appeals to intervene and halt the trial proceedings entirely.
“I would think that for a situation like this, the court of appeals would act very quickly,” Tamburino said. “If not by 1:30 p.m., then definitely by the end of the day.”
Depending on what the appeals court decides, the delay in jury selection could last until Tuesday or a number of weeks, depending the review of the third-degree murder charge in the high court.
The court moved forward with hearing motions Monday afternoon. Among the highlights:
- The prosecution said it does not intend to bring up Chauvin’s tax charges in Washington County.
- The state also said it does not intend to use medical examinations performed by doctors hired by George Floyd’s family as evidence.
- The state and defense agreed to provide a list of witnesses they intend to call a week before the trial begins. Both sides will also provide daily a list of witnesses they intend to call the next day.
- The judge noted proceedings may go past 4:30 p.m. some days.
- Sixteen of the first 50 potential jurors will be dismissed for cause.
The eyes of the nation, if not the world, are focused on Minnesota in what might be the most high-profile trial in the state’s history. Chauvin is currently charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death, which sparked mass protests and riots in the Twin Cities last year. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty on both counts.
Before Monday’s delay in Chauvin’s trial, jury selection was expected to take three weeks, with the defense, prosecutors and the judge weeding out potential jurors. The court is tasked with selecting 12 jurors and four alternates. They can be informed about the case, but not biased to any particular narrative. The jurors must be at least 18 years old, residents of Hennepin County and U.S. citizens.
Due to the immense pre-trial publicity, defense attorneys had asked that the case be moved out of the Twin Cities metro area. The judge declined that request, reasoning that there is not a place in the state or country where most people have not heard about Floyd’s death.
The potential jurors will have to answer a 16-page questionnaire on the case. They’ll have to tell the legal teams in detail what they know about Floyd’s death, including how many times they might have viewed the viral video of his fatal arrest. The questionnaire also asks about media habits, connections to law enforcement and experiences with systemic racism.
While the trial proceedings will be video recorded and live-streamed, the jurors — and potential jurors — will be anonymous. Their names are not supposed to be mentioned in court, and the cameras will not be fixed on them. The jurors will be partially sequestered during the trial and fully sequestered during deliberations.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the number of seats in the courtroom have been limited to maintain social distancing. Jurors will be required to wear masks.
Floyd, a Black man, died on May 25 after being arrested outside a south Minneapolis convenience store. Bystander video of the arrest showed Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he lay prone, handcuffed and repeatedly saying he couldn’t breathe.
Three other former Minneapolis police officers are also charged in the case; their trial is slated for later this summer.