Fourth juror selected in case of former officer

Published 8:29 am Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Day 3 of the Derek Chauvin trial began Wednesday with discussions over words that might inflame and whether terms like “gentle giant” could be used in court to describe George Floyd.

Derek Chauvin

Another juror was selected. The juror, whose identity is protected, said that he believes the criminal justice system is unfair to Black people and that they are disproportionately arrested for minor offenses.

He also indicated that he had a favorable view of law enforcement and said the training officers receive makes them more credible witnesses.

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“There is obviously tense situations that officers have to incur in their line of duty, and some of that takes split-second decision-making, right? And is it right to question a split-second decision-making after the fact? And that’s tough to do,” the juror said.

Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis police officer, faces charges of murder and manslaughter in the killing of Floyd while in police custody.

In other high-profile police killings, jurors have had to weigh officers’ defense of being forced to make split-second decisions to shoot. This case is different. Chauvin was captured on video kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes.

The juror said he’s scheduled to get married on May. 1. Judge Peter Cahill said he could blame him if the trial clashes with the wedding.

Judge won’t allow Floyd ‘character evidence’

In morning pretrial business Wednesday, Cahill agreed to limit the testimony of an eyewitness who is also a mixed martial arts fighter. The man will be able to offer his observations that officers may have pinned Floyd for much longer than they needed.

Those who witnessed the scene, though, won’t be able to offer opinions about what caused Floyd’s death. Cahill ruled similarly on possible testimony by on-duty firefighters who responded to the scene. They will not be allowed to offer a medical opinion about what caused Floyd’s death.

It appears there will be plenty of sidebar conversations at trial when testimony touches on the expression “blue wall of silence,” a term used to describe the unwillingness of police officers to speak against fellow officers.

Cahill expressed concern using the phrase could inflame the passions of jurors. Given the level of cooperation between Minneapolis police officers and investigators in the case, Cahill said he wasn’t sure when that would be relevant to the testimony.

There may also be several sidebar conversations during testimony from members of Floyd’s family.

Cahill said the family testimony or “spark of life testimony” is a traditional part of murder trials to show that the person killed was loved and valued. But the judge cautioned that he will not allow “character evidence,” which he defined as any testimony that may describe Floyd as a peaceful person or “gentle giant.”

“As soon as you start getting into propensity for violence or propensity for peacefulness, I think then you’re getting into character evidence,” said Cahill. “That does open the door for the defense to cross-examine about his character for peacefulness.”

Some potential jurors feared retaliation

Attorneys on both sides are winnowing a large pool of potential jurors to a final panel of 12, plus two alternates. The jurors chosen Tuesday included a woman who told defense attorney Eric Nelson that she was happy to serve.

“I was really excited. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t care what it was, I was just excited to be summoned,” said the juror, who described herself as easygoing, and a mediator among her friends. She has an uncle who’s a police officer in central Minnesota, but said that wouldn’t affect her opinion.

One juror is a chemist and environmental studies scientist who said he typically views life through an analytical lens.

Cahill expects opening statements for the the trial on March 29, although it’s still unclear if proceedings will be delayed by an unresolved matter on the reinstatement of third-degree murder charges.

Attorneys on Tuesday quizzed jurors about their knowledge of Floyd’s killing, as well as their opinions on movements like Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. They asked about their experiences with police officers and the court system, as well as their thoughts on people who use illegal drugs.

Six potential jurors were stricken from the pool Tuesday. Prosecutors used one of their strikes on a man who said he believed that police officers had difficult jobs and that people shouldn’t second guess them.

Other would-be jurors were released after saying that security at the court building was intimidating or that they feared retaliation for their involvement with the case.

A 19-year-old who was later struck by the judge told attorneys that he believed the Minneapolis Police Department has a history of corruption, that they “get away with many things,” and that he believes police are “trying to do the best they can not to get their police department defunded.”

Questions of bias

The defense used one of its strikes on Tuesday to dismiss the first potential juror who was questioned in the morning. The woman described herself as being originally from Mexico and said she had problems with English.

But Cahill decided while he didn’t think her not being a native English speaker was a problem, he agreed that she may have trouble following the trial and allowed her to be struck.

A third potential juror questioned was excused after she said she had “strong opinions” about the case and didn’t know if she could be impartial.

Later in the day, prosecutor Steve Schleicher raised questions of bias on the part of defense attorneys, given that they had dismissed two jurors self-identified as Hispanic.

Nelson denied any bias. Beyond the woman who said she was originally from Mexico and had some problems with English, Nelson said the second potential juror was struck because the man’s martial training led him to believe Chauvin used an “illegal” move when he pinned Floyd to the road.

Nelson also said he didn’t think that juror was sincere in his statement that he could be convinced otherwise if evidence contradicted his opinions.

Cahill said Nelson provided a “race neutral” explanation for the strikes.