Judge denies delay in Derek Chauvin trial, OKs some evidence from 2019 arrest

Derek Chauvin Trial

MINNEAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) — The judge overseeing the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer in the death of George Floyd denied a request to delay or move the trial out of the county Friday.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill ruled Friday on a motion by Derek Chauvin’s attorney to halt or move the trial due to concerns that a $27 million settlement for Floyd’s family had tainted the jury pool.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, called the timing of the settlement deeply disturbing and unfair, and said it jeopardized Chauvin’s chance for a fair trial.

Judge Cahill called the timing “unfortunate” but declined to delay proceedings or move the trial. He said neither option would make it easier to seat an impartial jury.

“I don’t think there’s any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity in this case,” Cahill said. 

Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in the May 25 death of Floyd, a Black man who was declared dead after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes. Floyd’s death, captured on bystander video, set off weeks of sometimes-violent protests across the country and led to a national reckoning on racial justice.

In a separate ruling Friday, Cahill said he would allow the jury to hear limited evidence from Floyd’s 2019 arrest, but only that pertaining to the cause of Floyd’s death in 2020. He acknowledged there are several similarities between the two incidents, including that Floyd swallowed drugs after police confronted him.

Chauvin’s attorney had argued this week that the similarities between both incidents are relevant to the cause of Floyd’s death, which is in dispute.

But a prosecutor argued the 2019 arrest is irrelevant and that the defense was simply trying to smear Floyd to excuse Chauvin’s actions.

Prosecutor Matthew Frank said the only relevant issue in Floyd’s death is how he was treated by police.

The judge had previously denied a defense attempt to allow the year-old arrest at trial. But he heard fresh arguments this week because of drugs found in January in a second search of the police SUV in which the four officers attempted to put Floyd in 2020.

He said Thursday that he would allow medical evidence of Floyd’s physical reactions, such as his dangerously high blood pressure when he was examined by a paramedic, and a short clip of an officer’s body camera video. He said Floyd’s “emotional behavior” such as calling out to his mother in 2019 won’t be admitted.

Meanwhile, a 13th juror was seated Friday — a woman who said she has only seen clips of the video of Floyd’s arrest and needs to learn more about what happened beforehand. The jury will include 12 jurors and two alternates.

The jurors seated so far are split by race: seven are white, four are Black and two are multiracial, according to the court.

Legal experts and local defense attorneys said the last two jurors chosen are almost always alternates, and some said they had never seen it done any other way. But the court said that wouldn’t necessarily be the case for Chauvin’s jury. Spokesman Kyle Christopherson said alternates could be chosen “many different ways,” but declined to give details.

“You can see in this case why (Cahill) might want to do something different, like draw numbers from a hat,” said Ted Sampsell-Jones, adding that the judge needs all jurors to pay attention for the duration of the trial. “If it’s the last two, and that’s published in the press, then the last two might find out that they are alternates. Which is what Cahill needs to avoid.”

The woman picked Friday morning — a white woman in her 50s — is between jobs, said she has volunteered with the homeless and wants to work on affordable housing issues.

She said she has never personally seen police officers respond to Black people or minorities with more force than white people, and that a person should have nothing to fear from police if they cooperate and comply with commands. She stopped short of saying that means a person deserves to be harmed.

“If you’re not listening to what the commands are, obviously something else needs to happen to resolve the situation,” she said of officers’ actions. “I don’t know how far the steps need to go.”

Opening statements will be held March 29 if the jury is complete by then.

Three other former officers face an August trial in Floyd’s death on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. All reporting by AP’s Steve Karnowski and Amy Forliti and Reuters’ Jonathan Allen.

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