George Floyd murder trial: Publicity surrounding case a challenge for jury selection

WION Web Team
Minneapolis, United StatesUpdated: Mar 11, 2021, 06:03 PM IST
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The jury selection is underway in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer charged over George Floyd’s death last year. The African American's May 2020 killing drew outrage and a worldwide reckoning on police reform and racial justice. Watch the video for the story so far.

Story highlights

Former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin is facing charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in connection with Floyd's May 25 death, which was captured by bystanders on smartphone video

The publicity surrounding the murder trial of George Floyd, an African-American man whose death laid bare racial wounds in the United States and sparked "Black Lives Matter" protests across the globe, is making jury selection a difficult task.

Millions of people have watched the video of George Floyd's death. A dozen will decide the fate of the white policeman seen kneeling for nearly nine minutes on the neck of the 46-year-old Black man.

Judge Peter Cahill of the Hennepin County District Court has set aside three weeks to screen jurors. 

Former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin is facing charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in connection with Floyd's May 25 death, which was captured by bystanders on smartphone video.

He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and manslaughter and stood politely each time his lawyer introduced him to potential jurors in court.

The viral video of Floyd's death sparked a summer of protests against police brutality and racial injustice in the United States and around the world.

Citing pre-trial publicity, defence lawyers for Chauvin sought to have the trial moved out of Minneapolis, the Minnesota city where Floyd died, but the motion was denied.

 'Juror rejection'

Only one of the prospective jurors so far, a white man in his 20s or 30s, has said they have not seen the video of Floyd's death.

The man, who said he has seen only a still image from the video, was the first person selected for the jury, which will comprise 12 jurors and two alternates.

Each potential juror filled out a 16-page questionnaire before being called in for jury selection.

Among the questions asked were whether they have seen the video of Floyd's death, whether they took part in protests against racial injustice and whether they've had any interactions with police.

They were also asked how they view the "Black Lives Matter" movement and whether they have a favourable or unfavourable view of Chauvin, the accused.

Chauvin's attorney and prosecutors have probed the prospective jurors further during the process called voir dire about their beliefs and knowledge about the case.

"Believe it or not, you're not the only person in the world that may have a negative view of my client," Eric Nelson, Chauvin's lead attorney, said with a smile as he questioned a potential juror who said that he, his wife, his son and daughter had all advocated for police reform.

That man was sent home after Nelson used the fourth of his 15 peremptory challenges, which enable a potential juror to be dismissed without cause.

The prosecutors from the state attorney general's office have used two of their nine challenges, including one against a civil litigation attorney who told prosecutors she thought that law enforcement officers have a "thankless job."

'Black Lives Matter'

Three jurors were seated on Tuesday after saying they could put aside their misgivings about Chauvin: A white man who is a chemist at an environmental testing lab; a woman who appeared to be of mixed race who said she was "super excited" to serve on a jury; and a white man who works as an auditor.

The judge has promised all jurors anonymity for the duration of the trial.

On Wednesday, a sales manager who appeared to be white and said he thought police tended to be more trustworthy witnesses than civilians became the fourth juror to be seated. He also said that he had "strongly favourable" views of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"In my college years, I took a couple of great courses following the Civil Rights movement, and they really just led me on the path of racial injustice throughout our history," he told the court. He said he was an avid sports fan and supported the right of Black football players to protest police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem before games.

Later, a Black man who said he immigrated to the United States 14 years ago to study in Nebraska and now worked in information technology told the court he believed that "all lives matter," but that Black lives matter more because he thought Black people had been marginalized.

He also said he disagreed with calls by some activists to "defund the police," saying that if police are expected to keep communities safe then "they have to have the right to have the funds."

He became the fifth of the 12 jurors and up to four alternates the judge is seeking to seat.

On Friday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered the judge overseeing the trial to reconsider the prosecution's request that Chauvin face an additional charge of third-degree murder.

Chauvin's lawyers asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to review that order, but the court said on Wednesday it would not intervene. Judge Cahill said he would discuss the charge with the attorneys on Thursday before resuming jury selection.

Chauvin's lawyers say he stuck to his police training and did not use excessive force when he was arresting Floyd on May 25 on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes.

Chauvin, 44, was released from jail on a $1 million bond in October and is being tried in a courtroom in the Hennepin County Government Center, a tower in downtown Minneapolis now ringed with barbed-wire fencing and concrete barricades.