MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Five jurors were seated by the end of the second day of jury selection on Wednesday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former policeman facing murder and manslaughter charges for the death of George Floyd during an arrest that caused international outrage.
Judge Peter Cahill of the Hennepin County District Court has set aside three weeks to screen jurors, aware that nearly everyone in the county had heard of Chauvin and even seen the bystander’s video showing him with his knee on the dying Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes last May.
Chauvin, who is white, was fired from the Minneapolis police department the day after the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man. 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.
Potential jurors last year received an unusually detailed 16-page questionnaire seeking their thoughts on the case and whether they thought there was racism in the criminal justice system. Asked about their view of Chauvin, many replied they disapproved, which did not surprise his lawyers.
“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 favorable” 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.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)