MINNEAPOLIS – Jury selection was delayed Monday in the trial of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin as an appeal is pending on the possible reinstatement of a third degree murder charge.
Chauvin is charged with second degree murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd last May. Prosecutors say Floyd, 46, was killed by Chauvin’s knee, compressed against Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes while he was handcuffed and pinned to the sidewalk.
Legal experts say video of the incident, along with two autopsy reports, will play a central role in the trial. The question at the heart of the matter is whether what people saw on the video was murder or a terrible tragedy.
Jury selection was delayed at least until Tuesday. Twelve jurors and up to four alternates will be selected in a process that could take up to three weeks. The opening pleadings are scheduled for March 29.
- The court was on hold until 1:30 p.m. CT, when Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill hoped to hear the Court of Appeal on whether jury selection is suspended while the defense asks the State High Court to review the third degree murder charge.
- The jurors, meanwhile, were sent home for the day.
- Previously, Cahill had briefly decided that he would proceed with the jury selection.
- Derek Chauvin appeared in court on Monday. Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd’s sister and founder of the George Floyd Memorial Foundation, was the Floyd family’s representative in court and sat in the back.
- Ahead of the trial, there were a handful of peaceful protests, with a demonstration Monday morning at the courthouse and a vigil scheduled for Monday evening in George Floyd Square.
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Judge sends jurors home for the day as third degree murder charge is resolved
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill initially ruled that jury selection will begin as scheduled on Monday. But prosecutors responded that they would ask the state Court of Appeals to order Cahill to stay jury selection until a possible third degree murder charge is resolved.
The appeals court ruled on Friday that Cahill should not have refused to reinstate this accusation. At Monday’s hearing, defense attorney Eric Nelson told Cahill he would ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review that decision.
Prosecutors responded by asking the Court of Appeal to suspend jury selection until this issue is resolved. In their case, they said they wanted to avoid a situation in which the trial was canceled because the district court should not have continued the trial. The prosecution only has one chance to try Chauvin because of the constitutional double jeopardy protection, which states that a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime.
Cahill sent potential jurors home for the day, and the trial halted pending a court of appeals decision. Cahill said jury selection would be delayed at least until Tuesday.
“I indicated that I intended to move forward with motions in elimination and jury selection, unless someone tells me not to, “Cahill said after the brief hiatus.” I think realistically we’re not going to come up with a jury selection or we won’t have an answer until at least tomorrow. “
Chauvin is charged with second degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Legal experts say reinstating the third degree murder charge would improve the chances of getting a conviction. According to Minnesota law, third degree murder involves “the commission of an act eminently dangerous to others and the manifestation of a depraved spirit.”
Courtroom redesigned for social distancing
The courtroom on the 18th floor of the courthouse has been redesigned to allow for social distancing. Large, clear plastic dividers separate Judge Peter Cahill and court staff from the limited number of others in the courtroom. Clear plastic dividers are also found in the middle of the defense and pursuit tables.
There is room in the socially remote courtroom for about 17 people, in total, plus jurors and deputies.
Two sheriff’s assistants provide security inside the courtroom. Other deputies and county security personnel are stationed elsewhere on the 18th floor. At least a few members of the Minnesota National Guard wearing Red Bulls insignia are downstairs.
Chauvin stood in military attention when Judge Cahill walked in and called the court to order, not facing the judge because his seat points sideways towards the jury gallery. He wore a black mask and a blue suit.
Several businesses in downtown Minneapolis were stranded on Monday near the Hennepin County Government Center, which is surrounded by barbed wire, fences and concrete barriers. Activists and performers gathered outside the courthouse, trying to deal with the anger simmering in the city since Floyd’s death last May.
Leesa Kelly, founder of Memorialize the Movement, said she came to the courthouse to urge the city, the Minneapolis Police Department and Chauvin to think about the damage to the community. “We’re going to be here until they remember, until we see justice,” Kelly said. “It was heartbreaking, it was exhausting and emotionally draining. As a black woman, I felt broken.”
Kelly’s organization collected more than 750 plywood murals created during the protests, many of which were on display outside the courthouse on Monday. Kelly, director of operations at the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum, said the murals were a “symbol of our collective grief.”
Athena Papagiannopoulos recalls feeling ‘upset’ when Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted after Philando Castile’s fatal shooting in 2016. She has been staging protests since then but said she felt nothing had changed in Minneapolis. Papagiannopoulos said his organization is working with the Floyd family to plan more action as the trial continues.
“I’m so angry, I’m so sad, it’s so upsetting,” said Papagiannopoulos, founder of Visual Black Justice. “The city will burn again like last summer if something is not done.”
Demonstration, vigil scheduled for Monday
More than a dozen activist groups, including Black Lives Matter Minnesota and Communities United Against Police Brutality, are planning a protest outside the courthouse Monday, starting at 8:30 a.m. CST, KARE 11 reported.
The George Floyd Global Memorial will host a meeting with religious leaders in George Floyd Square at 8 a.m. CST, ending with a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m., some of which will be broadcast live, according to the group’s website. The plaza is at the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue where Floyd died.
On Saturday, dozens of people gathered outside the Minnesota governor’s mansion in St. Paul to demand police accountability. Many of the approximately 150 people who protested were family members of others who died in encounters with police. Similar protests were held in cities across the country before Derek Chauvin’s trial.
Minneapolis increases security
Last month, city officials began consolidating security plans and establishing a security perimeter around City Hall, neighboring buildings and the courthouse where jury selection will begin on Monday. Streets will be closed, businesses will be cordoned off, and National Guard troops and hundreds of law enforcement officers will be in place in anticipation of potential unrest during the trial, which is due to begin on March 29.
Last year, after Floyd’s death, riots and looting broke out in the town for three nights and hundreds of buildings were damaged, some of which were set on fire. The protests quickly spread beyond Minneapolis to Saint Paul and then across the nation of the world. The the vast majority of protests throughout the summer were peaceful.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a police reform bill named Floyd, which would ban strangles and neck restrictions at the federal level, among other major reforms.
Contributor: Associated Press