Derek Chauvin trial live: City defends timing of lawsuit settlement; lawyers deal with parade of people with opinions on George Floyd death

MINNEAPOLIS — Faced with a parade of people who have strong opinions on the death of George Floyd, lawyers in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin are struggling to identify more people who can set aside their knowledge of the case and serve as jurors.

The court did not select any jurors Tuesday amid debate between the judge, defense and prosecution about whether they could be unbiased in such a high-profile case. Wednesday, the court replaced two jurors who were cut because they said they were influenced by the city’s historic $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family.

One potential juror said Wednesday he believes Black people and minorities are not treated equally by the criminal justice system, and Minneapolis police are more likely to use force when dealing with Black people. He was cut from the jury by the defense.

Some potential jurors have raised concerns about their safety if they were to be selected, or the trauma they would endure throughout the trial. One prospective juror was visibly upset Wednesday as she said her daughter had been shot to death in the same area where Floyd died.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill dismissed her almost immediately. “She was even wiping a tear as she left, so this is obviously traumatic for her,” he said.

Floyd, a Black man, 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 cried out, “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times. The incident sparked protests worldwide.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Latest updates:

  • Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and city attorney Jim Rowader said Thursday they don’t think the announcement of the civil settlement has had a negative effect on the trial.
  • Court opened Thursday morning with debate on whether the prosecution can call a forensic psychiatrist to testify about Floyd’s behavior during the fatal encounter.
  • Five of the 10 jurors identify as white, two as multiracial and three as Black, according to the court. Five of the jurors are in their 20s or 30s, two in their 40s and three in their 50s.
  • The judge said he was would rule Friday on the defense’s requests to move or delay the trial and to submit evidence evidence related to Floyd’s 2019 arrest. 

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Ten jurors — five men and five women — have been selected so far for 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. Five of the jurors identify as white, two as multiracial and three as Black, according to the court.

A white woman in her 50s was chosen Thursday morning. A nurse who works with ventilated COVID-19 patients, she said she’s “neutral” about both Chauvin and Floyd.

Lawyers for the prosecution and defense appeared to be concerned about whether she would use her professional training to resolve jurors’ questions over medical issues. The judge told the woman she can’t act as an expert witness in the jury room, and she said she would follow legal instructions.

Among the other jurors selected:

  • A man originally from outside the U.S. but who has lived in Hennepin County for two decades
  • A woman who works in company reorganization
  • A man who immigrated from Africa to the U.S.
  • A chemist who worked at a summer camp
  • A man who works in banking and teaches youth sports
  • A mother of two who worried about her safety in serving on the jury
  • A woman who said she was “super excited” to serve
  • A single mother of two
  • A groom who will likely have to postpone his wedding to serve on the jury

Wednesday afternoon, Cahill gave three more peremptory challenges to the defense and one to the state. With those, the defense has used 12 of its 18 peremptory challenges, which it can use to strike potential jurors without having to explain why. The state has used six of its 10.

After the court cut two jurors who said they were swayed by the city’s $27 million settlement with the Floyd family, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and city attorney Jim Rowader said Thursday they don’t think the proceedings have been hurt by the settlement.

Rowader said in a press conference the city decided to move forward with the settlement in part because there was “no guarantee” the deal would’ve been available weeks or months from now. He declined to elaborate.

“There is no good timing to settle any case, particularly one as complex and involved and sensitive as this,” he said. “It’s clear from the judge’s comments this week that he does not want us to talk about the settlement at this time while they’re finishing jury selection.”

At the press conference, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said authorities are planning to open the intersection where Floyd died, at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, due to community concerns. Arrandondo said that decision will be based on public safety.

“The best public safety remedy right now is to open up and get that intersection flowing again,” he said. “Many of the community voices have said every day that that intersection stays closed, they’re feeling more harm, they are feeling more stressed, anxiety levels are going up.”

Court opened Thursday morning with debate over whether the prosecution can call a forensic psychiatrist to testify about Floyd’s behavior during the fatal encounter.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said Dr. Sarah Vinson should be allowed to testify that Floyd’s reaction to the officers’ attempts to put him into a squad car were consistent with any reasonable person’s anxiety or panic during a traumatic event. The prosecution wants to show that Floyd may have been unable to comply with the officers’ orders, not that he was resisting arrest.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson argued if the judge allows that, the defense should be allowed to present evidence regarding Floyd’s arrest for drug possession a year earlier. During that incident, Nelson said, Floyd did not resist getting into a squad car.

Cahill said he’ll rule on Vinson’s testimony on Friday, when he plans to issue a broader ruling on the admissibility of Floyd’s 2019 arrest and on defense motions for delaying and moving the trial.

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Derek Chauvin trial: Former officer charged in George Floyd’s death

As the trial begins for a former police officer accused of killing George Floyd, here’s what you need to know about the case.

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Court cuts two jurors influenced by $27M settlement in Floyd death

Cahill opened court Wednesday by recalling the seven jurors seated last week and questioning them about their exposure to news of the civil settlement, which was announced Friday.

Four of the seven jurors told the judge they’d heard about the settlement. Another said his fiancee told him there had been a development regarding Floyd, but she hadn’t disclosed any details.

“That sticker price obviously shocked me and kind of swayed me a little bit,” said one juror, a Hispanic man in his 20s. The judge released him from the jury.

Another juror, a white man in his 30s, said the settlement was large. “I think it would be hard to be impartial,” he said. He, too, was excused.

One man said he heard the news on the radio, but “it hasn’t affected me at all because I don’t know the details.”

Another juror knew the settlement amount. She said she wasn’t surprised by the announcement as much as its timing. She said she could remain impartial and told the judge that if other jurors raised the issue during deliberations, she would tell them it’s “not part of the case.”

Cahill advised the remaining jurors to avoid the news as much as possible.

“We’re back down to seven jurors,” he said. “The jurors who remain on the jury, in my view, can remain fair and impartial.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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