Chauvin’s lawyer asks for delay in Floyd trial

The New York Times
Minneapolis Written By: Tim Arango and John Eligon © 2021 The New York TimesUpdated: Mar 16, 2021, 07:12 PM IST
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A file photo of a George Floyd mural Photograph:(AFP)

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The settlement announced last week is the largest in a police conduct case in Minneapolis history and one of the largest in the country

Expressing grave concern that the city of Minneapolis’ $27 million settlement with the family of George Floyd last week will tarnish his client, the lawyer for Derek Chauvin asked the judge Monday to delay the trial and move it outside of the city.

The lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, also asked that the seven jurors previously picked to serve on the case be brought back in for further questioning.

“The fact this came in the middle of jury selection is perplexing,” Nelson told Judge Peter A. Cahill.

Cahill agreed that the settlement could affect the criminal case, saying he would consider a postponement. He said the timing was “unfortunate.”

“I wish city officials would stop talking about this case so much,” he said in court, “but at the same time I don’t find any evil intent that they are trying to tamper with this criminal case.”

Cahill said he would also reinterview the seven people who were seated on the jury last week, to see what they know about the settlement.

Steve Schleicher, one of the prosecutors, pushed back on the insinuation by Nelson that the state was trying to prejudice the case with publicity, saying, “We cannot and do not control the civil aspect of this case. We cannot and do not control the Minneapolis City Council.”

As jury selection resumed Monday, the first person, a woman identified only as juror No. 51, was quickly dismissed because she said she heard news of last week’s civil settlement on the radio and “almost gasped” at the size of it. She said that she already had a strong opinion about the case, and that after hearing about the payout to the Floyd family she felt she could not be impartial.

Another juror was dismissed because he said he saw news, first reported in The New York Times, that last summer Chauvin had agreed to plead guilty to third degree murder, an arrangement that was ultimately rejected by William Barr, who was then the attorney general, because the deal involved the Justice Department’s agreement not to bring federal charges.

Still, despite the threat of a delay because of pretrial publicity, the court made more progress Monday on assembling a jury, adding two new people to the panel. One, a Black man in his 30s who works in banking and coaches youth sports, said he had not heard the news about the settlement. He said that he did not believe that Chauvin “set out to murder anyone,” but that he believed American society was rife with racial discrimination.

He said he wanted to serve on the jury because “this is the most historic case of my lifetime and I would love to be a part of it.”

The second person added to the panel was a white woman in her 50s, a widow who rides a motorcycle and said that while she was disturbed by the video showing Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on Floyd, who was Black, for more than nine minutes, she agreed with Nelson that the video was only one piece of the story.

With Monday’s additions to the jury, there are now nine people seated on the panel. Ultimately, the court will seat 14 people — 12 regular jurors and two alternates.

The settlement announced last week is the largest in a police conduct case in Minneapolis history and one of the largest in the country.

Seating a jury was already seen as a difficult task, with the death of Floyd leading to protests nationwide and a renewed movement for police accountability. The last moments of Floyd’s life were captured on graphic cellphone video.

The city said its settlement was independent of the trial, but legal experts said it could play into the minds of jurors. It could send a message to jurors that the city believed that what Chauvin did was inappropriate, said Mary Moriarty, the former chief public defender in Minneapolis.

“I don’t think it helps Chauvin at all,” she said. “I think it’s pretty prejudicial.”