UPDATE: 6 chosen for Chauvin trial jury so far; murder charge added

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In this image taken from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and defendant, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, right, listen to Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill during pretrial motions, prior to continuing jury selection in the trial of Chauvin, Thursday, March 11, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Chauvin is accused in the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd. (Court TV/Pool via Pool)

FRIDAY 3/12/2021 6:50 a.m.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A man who said he has a “very negative” impression of Derek Chauvin nevertheless became the sixth juror selected for the former Minneapolis police officer’s trial in George Floyd’s death.

The man, who told attorneys he could set that aside and consider the evidence in the case, was the only juror chosen Thursday in a day most notable for the judge restoring a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin.

When jury selection resumes Friday for a fourth day, the panel seated so far will include five men and one woman. Three of those seated are white, one is multiracial, one is Hispanic, and one is Black, according to Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill.

Cahill’s restoration of the third-degree murder charge came at the start of Thursday’s proceedings, a day after Chauvin failed to get appellate courts to block the charge, handing jurors one more option for a conviction if they choose. Cahill had earlier rejected it as not warranted by the circumstances of Floyd’s death, but an appellate court ruling in an unrelated case established new grounds.

Cahill told potential jurors after the ruling that he still expects opening statements on March 29.

Floyd was declared dead on May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against the Black man’s neck for about nine minutes. Floyd’s death sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning on race.

The sole juror picked Thursday described himself as an outgoing, family-oriented soccer fan for whom the prospect of the trial is “kind of exciting.”

The man said he’s also a fan of true crime podcasts and TV shows. He acknowledged under questioning from defense attorney Eric Nelson that he had a “very negative” impression of Chauvin. The man wrote on his questionnaire that he had seen the widely viewed bystander video of Floyd “desperately screaming that he couldn’t breathe” even as other officers stood by and bystanders shouted that Chauvin was killing him.

Yet asked whether he could set his opinions aside and stick to the evidence presented in court, he replied: “I’m willing to see all the evidence and everything, hear witnesses.”

Several other candidates were dismissed, including a woman who said she “can’t unsee the video” of Chauvin pinning Floyd, and a man who said he has doubts about Black Lives Matter and the way the group pursues its goals.

Nelson pressed the woman hard on her ability to be fair despite her strong opinions.

Asked how the events of last summer had affected the community, she replied: “Negatively affected because a life was taken. Positively because a movement has come from it and the whole world knows.” Asked about the property damage during the unrest, she said, ”I felt that was what needed to happen to bring this to the world’s attention.”

“Looking in your heart and looking in your mind can you assure us you can set all of that aside, all of that, and focus only on the evidence that is presented in this courtroom?” Nelson asked.

“I can assure you, but like you mentioned earlier, the video is going to be a big part of the evidence and there’s no changing my mind about that,” she replied.

At least three weeks have been set aside to complete a jury of 12 plus two alternates. Potential jurors’ identities are being protected and they are not shown on the live-streamed video of the proceedings.

Chauvin and three other officers were fired. The others face an August trial on aiding and abetting charges. The defense hasn’t said whether Chauvin will testify in his own defense.

UPDATE: Attorneys in ex-cop’s trial probe jurors’ views about police

March 10, 2021 4:58 p.m.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Attorneys in the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death probed potential jurors Wednesday about their attitudes toward police, trying to determine whether they’re more inclined to believe testimony from law enforcement over evidence from other witnesses to the fatal confrontation.

Judge Peter Cahill seated two more jurors to go with the three picked Tuesday for Derek Chauvin’s trial on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. It’s been a grinding process during which attorneys ask prospective jurors one by one whether they could keep an open mind, what they think of the criminal justice system and racial justice issues, how they resolve conflicts and much more.

In a separate development, the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to hear Chauvin’s appeal to block a third-degree murder charge from being reinstated. At issue is whether the conviction of another former Minneapolis police officer in the unrelated killing of an Australian woman established a precedent for prosecutors to restore a third-degree murder count that the trial judge dismissed earlier. The Minnesota Court of Appeals last week said it settled the law with its ruling last month affirming the conviction of Mohamed Noor in the 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

The new decision from the state’s highest court left open the possibility that Cahill could add the charge back, lessening the chances that Chauvin’s trial would be delayed over the dispute. The conventional legal wisdom is that giving the jury another option for convicting Chauvin of murder raises the chance of a conviction.

Cahill noted the ruling during a break and told the prosecution and defense that they’ll discuss next steps Thursday morning before jury selection begins for the day. He noted that there are still some legal issues left to be decided before resolving that dispute.

The first juror picked Wednesday, a man who works in sales management and grew up in a mostly white part of central Minnesota, acknowledged saying on his written questionnaire that he had a “very favorable” opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement and a “somewhat unfavorable” impression of the Blue Lives Matter countermovement in favor of police, yet “somewhat agreed” that police don’t get the respect they deserve. He said he agrees that there are bad police officers.

“Are there good ones? Yes. So I don’t think it’s right to completely blame the entire organization,” he told the court under questioning from prosecutor Steve Schleicher.

He also said he would be more inclined to believe an officer, all things being equal, over the word of another witness. But he maintained he would be able to set aside any ideas about the inherent honesty of an officer and evaluate each witness on their own.

The second, a man who works in information technology security, marked “strongly agree” on a question about whether he believes police in his community make him feel safe. His community wasn’t specified — jurors are being drawn from all over Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis and many of its suburbs.

“In my community, I think when there is suspicious activity the police will stop by, they will ask a question,” he said. “I think that sense of community is all we want right? We want to live in a community where we feel safe regardless of race, color and gender.”

Schleicher noted that the man also stated in questionnaire that he strongly disagreed with the concept of “defunding” the police, which has become a political flashpoint locally and across the country in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“While I necessarily might not agree with the police action in some situation, I believe that in order for police to make my community safe they have to have the money,” he replied.

The questionnaire explores potential jurors’ familiarity with the case and their own contacts with police. Their answers have not been made public, and the jurors’ identities are being kept secret. Their racial backgrounds often aren’t disclosed in open court.

Floyd was declared dead on May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against the Black man’s neck for about nine minutes. Floyd’s death sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning on race.

Chauvin and three other officers were fired. The others face an August trial on aiding and abetting charges. The defense hasn’t said whether Chauvin will testify in his own defense.

Schleicher used a peremptory challenge Wednesday to remove from the panel a woman who has a nephew who’s a sheriff’s deputy in western Minnesota. She said she was dismayed by the violence that followed Floyd’s death.

“I personally didn’t see any usefulness to it,” she said. “I didn’t see anything accomplished by it, except I suppose bring attention to the frustrations of the people involved. But did I see anything useful coming out of the burning of Lake Street and that sort of thing? I did not.”

The first juror chosen for the panel on Wednesday said he had one potential problem — he’s scheduled to get married May 1 in Florida but was prepared to change his plans if the trial continues that long. Opening statements are scheduled for no sooner than March 29 and testimony is expected to last about four weeks, so it could get tight.

“We’ll do our best to get you to your wedding,” Cahill said as he informed the man he was on the jury. “Go ahead and throw me under the bus with your fiancée.”

ORIGINAL: Jury selection on pause for ex-cop charged in Floyd’s death

MONDAY 3/8/2021 12:07 p.m.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The judge overseeing the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer accused in the death of George Floyd on Monday paused jury selection for at least a day while an appeal proceeds over the possible reinstatement of a third-degree murder charge.

As hundreds of protesters gathered outside the courthouse to call for the conviction of Derek Chauvin, Judge Peter Cahill said he does not have jurisdiction to rule on whether the third-degree murder charge should be reinstated against the former officer while the issue is being appealed. But he said prosecutors’ arguments that the whole case would be impacted were “tenuous.”

Cahill planned to go ahead with the trial anyway and initially ruled jury selection would begin as scheduled on Monday. But after prosecutors filed a request with the Court of Appeals to put the case on hold, the judge sent the potential jurors home for the day. Cahill called a recess to give the Court of Appeals time to respond, but planned to bring attorneys back into the courtroom Monday afternoon to deal with other matters.

Cahill said the trial would proceed unless the higher courts told him to stop.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. The Court of Appeals last week ordered Cahill to consider reinstating a third-degree murder charge that he had dismissed. Legal experts say reinstating the charge would improve the odds of getting a conviction.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, said Monday he would ask the state Supreme Court to review the appellate ruling. He has 30 days to seek a review.

For the unintentional second-degree murder charge, prosecutors have to prove that Chauvin’s conduct was a “substantial causal factor” in Floyd’s death, and that Chauvin was committing felony assault at the time. For third-degree murder, they must prove that Chauvin’s actions caused Floyd’s death, and that his actions were reckless and without regard for human life.

Floyd was declared dead May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against the handcuffed Black man’s neck for about nine minutes, holding his position even after Floyd went limp. Floyd’s death sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, and led to a nationwide reckoning on race.

Chauvin and three other officers were fired; the others face an August trial on aiding and abetting charges.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the courthouse as proceedings began, many carrying signs that read, “Justice for George Floyd” and “Convict Killer Cops.”

One speaker took a microphone and decried the concrete barriers topped by chain-link fencing, barbed wire and razor wire set up around the courthouse. DJ Hooker, 26, also ridiculed talk of the Chauvin trial as “the trial of the century,” saying the jury simply needs to “do the right thing.”

Then he led the crowd in chants of “The whole world is watching!”

Inside the courtroom, Chauvin, in a blue suit and black mask, followed the proceedings attentively, making notes on a legal pad. Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd’s sister and founder of the George Floyd Memorial Foundation, sat in the seat allocated to Floyd’s family. No one attended to support Chauvin.

Once jury selection starts, it is expected to take at least three weeks, as prosecutors and defense attorneys try to weed out people who may be biased against them.

“You don’t want jurors who are completely blank slates, because that would mean they’re not in tune at all with the world,” Susan Gaertner, a former prosecutor, said. “But what you want is jurors who can set aside opinions that have formed prior to walking into the courtroom and give both sides a fair hearing.”

Nelson earlier argued that pretrial publicity of the case and the subsequent violent unrest in Minneapolis would make it impossible to find an impartial jury in Hennepin County. But Cahill said last year that moving the trial probably wouldn’t cure the problem of a potentially tainted jury pool because “no corner of the State of Minnesota” has been shielded from pretrial publicity.

The potential jurors — who must be at least 18, U.S. citizens and residents of Hennepin County — were sent questionnaires to determine how much they have heard about the case and whether they’ve formed any opinions. Besides biographical and demographic information, jurors were asked about prior contacts with police, whether they have protested against police brutality and whether they believe the justice system is fair.

Some of the questions get specific, such as how often a potential juror has watched the bystander video of Floyd’s arrest, or whether they carried a sign at a protest and what that sign said.

Mike Brandt, a local defense attorney, said prosecutors will likely seek out jurors who have favorable opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement or might have more outrage over Floyd’s death, while Chauvin’s attorneys would likely favor jurors who support the police.

Unlike typical jury selection proceedings, potential jurors will be questioned individually rather than in a group. The judge, defense attorney and prosecutors will all get to ask questions. The defense can object to up to 15 potential jurors without giving a reason; prosecutors can block up to nine without providing a reason. Either side can object to these peremptory challenges if they believe the sole reason for disqualifying a juror is race or gender.

Both sides can also argue to dismiss an unlimited number of jurors “for cause,” meaning they must provide a reason why they believe that juror shouldn’t serve. Those situations can get into “some tortured questioning,” Brandt said. It’s up to the judge to decide whether a juror stays or goes.

He said that even if a juror says they have had a negative interaction with the police or hold negative views about Black Lives Matter, the key will be trying to find out whether they can put those past experiences or opinions aside and be fair.

“We all walk into these with biases. The question is, can you put those biases aside and be fair in this case,” he said.

Jury selection will end after 14 people are picked — 12 jurors who will deliberate the case and two alternates who won’t be part of deliberations unless needed. The jurors will be escorted to the courthouse daily and sequestered during deliberations. Their names will be kept confidential until further order of the court.

The number of seats in the courtroom has been limited to maintain social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and seats for jurors have been spaced out. Like others in the courtroom, jurors will be required to wear masks.

The earliest opening statements will begin is March 29.

ORIGINAL: Jury selection begins for trial of Derek Chauvin

MONDAY 3/8/2021 6:13 a.m.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The fate of a former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck as the Black man said he couldn’t breathe will be decided by 12 Hennepin County residents picked after extensive grilling about their views on police and the justice system.

Jury selection begins Monday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Picking a jury is expected to take at least three weeks, as prosecutors and defense attorneys try to weed out people who may be biased against them.

“You don’t want jurors who are completely blank slates, because that would mean they’re not in tune at all with the world,” Susan Gaertner, a former prosecutor, said. “But what you want is jurors who can set aside opinions that have formed prior to walking into the courtroom and give both sides a fair hearing.”

Floyd was declared dead May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes, holding his position even after Floyd went limp as he was handcuffed and lying on his stomach. Floyd’s death sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, and led to a nationwide reckoning on race.

Chauvin and three other officers were fired; the others face an August trial on aiding and abetting charges.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, argued that pretrial publicity of the case and the subsequent violent unrest in Minneapolis would make it impossible to find an impartial jury in Hennepin County. But Judge Peter Cahill said last year that moving the trial probably wouldn’t cure the problem of a potentially tainted jury pool because “no corner of the State of Minnesota” has been shielded from pretrial publicity.

The potential jurors — who must be at least 18, U.S. citizens and residents of Hennepin County — were sent questionnaires to determine how much they have heard about the case and whether they’ve formed any opinions. Besides biographical and demographic information, jurors were asked about prior contacts with police, whether they have protested against police brutality and whether they believe the justice system is fair.

Some of the questions get specific, such as how often a potential juror has watched the bystander video of Floyd’s arrest, or whether they carried a sign at a protest and what that sign said.

Mike Brandt, a local defense attorney, said prosecutors will likely seek out jurors who have favorable opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement or might have more outrage over Floyd’s death, while Chauvin’s attorneys would likely favor jurors who support the police.

Unlike typical jury selection proceedings, this jury pool will be questioned one by one instead of in a group. The judge, defense attorney and prosecutors will all get to ask questions. The defense can object to up to 15 potential jurors without giving a reason; prosecutors can block up to nine with no reason given. The other side can object to these so-called peremptory challenges if they believe the sole reason for disqualifying a juror is race or gender.

Both sides can also argue to dismiss an unlimited number of jurors “for cause,” meaning they must provide a reason why they believe that juror shouldn’t serve. Those situations can get into some detailed machinations, Brandt said, and it’s up to the judge to decide whether a juror stays or goes.

“Sometimes there is some tortured questioning,” Brandt said.

He said that even if a juror says they have had a negative interaction with the police, or a negative opinion about Black Lives Matter, the key will be trying to find out whether they can put those past experiences or opinions aside and be fair.

“We all walk into these with biases. The question is, can you put those biases aside and be fair in this case,” he said.

Jury selection will end after 14 people are picked – 12 jurors who will deliberate the case and two alternates who won’t be part of deliberations unless needed. The jurors will be escorted to the courthouse daily and sequestered during deliberations. Their names will be kept confidential until further order of the court.

The number of seats in the courtroom has been limited to maintain social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and seats for jurors have been spaced out. Like others in the courtroom, jurors will be required to wear masks.

The earliest opening statements will begin is March 29.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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