Judge refuses to delay Chauvin trial, jury selection nears end

Judge says delay would not stop publicity surrounding landmark case, only two jurors remain to be seated.

Defence lawyer Eric Nelson introduces Derek Chauvin to potential jurors during jury selection in his trial in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 15, 2021, in this courtroom sketch from a video feed of the proceedings [File: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters]

A judge on Friday denied a defence request to delay or move the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death after the announcement of a $27m settlement for Floyd’s family raised concern about a tainted jury as jury selection neared its end.

Eric Nelson, the lead lawyer for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, has complained to the court that publicity around the trial has tainted the jury pool in and around Minneapolis, citing in particular the settlement to their wrongful death civil lawsuit.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who has called the timing “unfortunate”, said he thought a delay would do nothing to stem the problem of pretrial publicity. As for moving the trial, he said there is no place in Minnesota that has not been touched by that publicity.

The rulings were a blow to Chauvin’s defence.

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer facing murder charge in the death of George Floyd, is introduced to potential jurors during jury selection in his trial in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 15, 2021, in this courtroom sketch from a video feed of the proceedings [File: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters]

Floyd, who was Black, was declared dead on May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes while he was handcuffed and pleading that he could not breathe.

Floyd’s death, captured on a widely seen bystander video, set off months of protests across the country and led to a national reckoning on racial justice.

Chauvin, 44, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter charges arising from Floyd’s death and has said he correctly followed his police training. He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.

In a separate ruling, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said he would allow the jury to hear limited evidence from Floyd’s 2019 arrest, but only that pertaining to the cause of Floyd’s death in 2020.

He acknowledged there are several similarities between the two incidents, including that Floyd swallowed drugs after police confronted him.

Cahill said the jury could see a portion of the 2019 video from police body-worn cameras showing up to the point where they remove Floyd from the car and handcuff him. The jury could also see images of the pills found in the car seat in the 2019 arrest.

A ‘justice for George’ sign is displayed while people demonstrate as jury selection begins in Minneapolis for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former policeman accused of killing Floyd, during a march in Portland, Oregon, on March 8, 2021 [File: Maranie Staab/Reuters]

The judge also said the defence could call the paramedic who treated Floyd to testify on his “bodily reaction” to swallowing drugs.

Prosecutor Matthew Frank said the defence was simply looking for a backdoor way to portray Floyd as a bad person, and the only relevant issue in Floyd’s death is how he was treated by police.

12 of 14 jurors

Jury selection continued on Friday after 12 jurors were seated on Thursday afternoon.

The three members seated on Thursday — two white women and a Black woman — joined a group of jurors diverse in race and age, drawn from in and around Minnesota’s largest city since the trial began last week.

Lawyer Ben Crump and Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, join hands as they enter for a news conference to announce a $27m settlement with the City of Minneapolis on March 12, 2021 [File: Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters]

The court still seeks to select two alternates to join the 12 jurors.

Cahill continued questioning potential jurors on Friday, excusing one woman, identified as Juror 99, who worked with police previously and said she believed more facts needed to be aired.

Cahill excused herself from the case, and from being a possible juror in future cases.

With only two jurors left to seat, selection could finish by Friday. Opening arguments in Chauvin’s trial are scheduled for March 29.

Source: News Agencies