MINNEAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) — A judge Thursday granted prosecutors’ request to add a third-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill added the charge after Chauvin’s defense team failed to get appellate courts to block it. Cahill had twice earlier rejected the charge as not warranted by the circumstances of Floyd’s death, but an appellate court ruling in an unrelated case established new grounds for it.
Chauvin already faced second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. Legal experts say the additional charge helps prosecutors by giving jurors one more option to convict Chauvin.
Attorneys and Cahill have spent two days screening jurors in Chauvin’s murder trial, and the selection process continues Thursday. At this point, jurors’ identities are being kept secret. The judge is seeking to seat 12 jurors and up to four alternatives. Six jurors have been seated so far.
The jury by mid-afternoon Thursday included five men and one woman. Cahill said three are white, one is multiracial, one is Hispanic and one is Black.
The juror selected Thursday morning described himself as an outgoing, family-oriented soccer fan, for whom the prospect of the trial was “kind of exciting.”
The man, who said his favorite team is the Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid, said he’s also a fan of true crime podcasts and TV shows. He acknowledged under questioning from defense attorney Eric Nelson that he had a “very negative” impression of Chauvin. The man wrote on his questionnaire that he had seen the widely viewed bystander video of Floyd “desperately screaming that he couldn’t breathe” even as other officers stood by and bystanders shouted that Chauvin was killing Floyd.
Yet asked whether he could set his opinions aside and stick to the evidence presented in court, he replied: “I’m willing to see all the evidence and everything, hear witnesses.”
Several candidates were dismissed, including a woman who said she “can’t unsee the video” of Chauvin pinning Floyd, and a man who said he has doubts about Black Lives Matter and the way the group pursues its goals.
Nelson intensely questioned the woman on her ability to be fair despite her strong opinions.
When asked how the events of last summer had affected the community, she replied: “Negatively affected because a life was taken. Positively because a movement has come from it and the whole world knows.” Asked about the property damage during the unrest, she said, ”I felt that was what needed to happen to bring this to the world’s attention.”
“I can assure you, but like you mentioned earlier, the video is going to be a big part of the evidence and there’s no changing my mind about that,” she said.
Judge Cahill dismissed her for cause, sparing Nelson from having to use one of his peremptory strikes. Prosecutor Steve Schleicher objected, saying she might have been subjected to harder questioning than other potential jurors.
Cahill has set aside at least three weeks to fill the panel, aware that nearly everyone in the county has either heard of Chauvin or seen the bystander’s video of the deadly confrontation.
Floyd was declared dead on May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against the 46-year-old Black man’s neck for about nine minutes. Chauvin, who was fired from the Minneapolis Police Department the day after, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Floyd’s death sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning on race.
So far, attorneys have given considerable attention to the jury pool’s attitudes toward police, trying to determine whether they’re more inclined to believe testimony from law enforcement over evidence from other witnesses to the fatal confrontation.
The screening process involves asking for clarification on answers to an unusually detailed 16-page questionnaire that potential jurors received last year, gauging their perspectives on the case and the criminal justice system.
The first juror picked Wednesday, a man who works in sales management and grew up in a mostly white part of central Minnesota, acknowledged saying on his written questionnaire that he had a “very favorable” opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement and a “somewhat unfavorable” impression of the Blue Lives Matter countermovement in favor of police, yet “somewhat agreed” that police don’t get the respect they deserve. He said he agrees that there are bad police officers.
“Are there good ones? Yes. So I don’t think it’s right to completely blame the entire organization,” he told the court under questioning from prosecutor Steve Schleicher.
He also said he would be more inclined to believe an officer over the word of another witness. But he said he could set aside any ideas about the inherent honesty of an officer and evaluate each witness on their own.
The second juror chosen on Wednesday, a man who works in information technology security, marked “strongly agree” on a question about whether he believes police in his community make him feel safe. His community wasn’t specified — jurors are being drawn from all over Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis and many of its suburbs.
“In my community, I think when there is suspicious activity the police will stop by, they will ask a question,” he said. “I think that sense of community is all we want right? We want to live in a community where we feel safe regardless of race, color and gender.”
Prosecutors from the state attorney general’s office have used two of their nine peremptory challenges, which enable a potential juror to be dismissed without cause. The defense has used four of their 15 allocated.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. Reporting by AP’s Steve Karnowski and Amy Forliti and Reuters’ Jonathan Allen.