Trial for ex-cop charged in Floyd’s death forges on, for now
Published 9:40 am Tuesday, March 9, 2021
MINNEAPOLIS — The trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death is forging ahead with jury selection, even though a looming appellate ruling could halt the case and delay it for weeks or even months as the state tries to add a third-degree murder count.
Prosecutors are asking the Court of Appeals to put Derek Chauvin’s trial on hold until the issue of adding the third-degree murder count is resolved. The appeals court did not immediately rule on that request, and Judge Peter Cahill said Monday that he intends to keep the trial on track until he’s told to stop.
“Unless the Court of Appeals tells me otherwise, we’re going to keep moving,” he said. Jury selection started Tuesday, a day later than scheduled.
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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 issue.
On Monday, prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to dismiss 16 of the first 50 jurors they reviewed “for cause,” based on their answers to a lengthy questionnaire. The dismissals weren’t debated in court, but such dismissals can be for a host of reasons, such as views that indicate a juror can’t be impartial.
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, holding his position even after Floyd went limp. Floyd’s death was captured on widely seen bystander video and 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.
Cahill ruled on pretrial motions Tuesday, setting parameters for trial testimony. Among them, Cahill said jurors will hear when Chauvin stopped working for the police department, but they will not be told that he was fired or that the city made a “substantial offer” to settle a lawsuit with Floyd’s family. Those details will not be allowed because they could imply guilt, Cahill said.
The city had no immediate comment when asked about the settlement offer. A message left with an attorney for the Floyd family was not immediately returned.
Cahill also ruled that a firefighter who can be heard in the bystander video, urging the officers to check Floyd’s pulse, will be allowed to testify about what she saw, and whether she thought medical intervention was needed, but she will not be able to speculate that she could have saved Floyd if she had intervened. In addition, testimony about what training Chauvin received will be allowed.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the courthouse as proceedings began Monday, many carrying signs that read, “Justice for George Floyd” and “Convict Killer Cops.”
Inside the courtroom, Chauvin, in a blue suit and black mask, followed the proceedings attentively, making notes on a legal pad. No one attended to support him. Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd’s sister, sat in the seat allocated to Floyd’s family.
Afterward, Bridgett Floyd said the family was glad the trial had finally arrived and is “praying for justice.”
“I sat in the courthouse today and looked at the officer who took my brother’s life,” she said. “That officer took a great man, a great father, a great brother, a great uncle.”
The unintentional second-degree murder charge requires to prosecutors 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. The third-degree murder charge would require them to prove that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death through a dangerous act without regard for human life.
Jury selection could take at least three weeks and will end when 14 jurors are picked — 12 who will deliberate and two alternates.