DAY 3 – Wednesday, March 10th
The jury selection resumed for a second day in a case being watched live worldwide, adding two more jurors for a total of five so far.
Three weeks have been allotted to find 12 (plus four backups) fair and impartial jurors, which is quite a feat given the publicity of George Floyd, who died at the intersection of E. 38th Street and S. Chicago Avenue. The trial is tentatively due to start no earlier than March 29.
Prior to jury selection, the morning began with attorneys discussing the validity of submitting information about a May 16, 2019 arrest and other priors related to drug use, along with “Spark of Life” testimony, a concept in MN law that allows the state to call witnesses to talk about the deceased so that he is portrayed as a living, breathing human being. The state can call a witness to talk about who he was and show pictures of him “in life.”
Judge Peter Cahill said he won’t be allowing “character evidence” about George Floyd, including that he was a “gentle giant.” But that they can talk about how beloved he was by his family.
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During the proceedings, Derek Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson filed a motion to bar anticipated key witness Donald Williams from testifying as an expert about his martial arts expertise.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank said that Williams, who began wrestling at age 13, has trained in mixed martial arts for more than 10 years, has at least 18 professional fights to his credit, and has trained alongside police officers in the use of force techniques.
“Anyone who has seen the [bystander] video knows what we were talking about,” Frank said. “He was so vocal because he knew the seriousness of this. He knew that Mr. Chauvin was killing this man. He knew this was very dangerous.”
Nelson said that while he understands that Williams was clearly at the scene and can testify to what he witnessed, he should not be able to assess whether the restraint Chauvin placed on Floyd was legitimate.
District Judge Peter Cahill ruled that Williams is entitled to testify about his martial arts training, as well as the hold he observed, and his belief that it went on too long. He won’t be allowed to speak as a medical expert and address what caused Floyd’s death, the judge said.
Williams was among those who captured the incident (e.g. Darnella Frazier) on video pleading with Chauvin to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck. He was the young black man who could be heard repeatedly saying to Chauvin “you’re a bum, bro. You’re a bum.”
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death, and jury selection is proceeding despite uncertainty over whether a third-degree murder charge will be reinstated.
Incidentally, AG Ellison was in the courtroom, along with George Floyd’s aunt on his mother’s side.
JURY DUTY DAY TWO
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, Special Attorney for the State Steven Schleicher, and Nelson continued to grill prospective jurors one by one about their questionnaires, whether they could keep an open mind, their experience resolving conflicts, and more.
Here are some highlights from the potential jurors of the day:
Juror 20, a white male who was eventually seated, was not concerned about being on the jury during a pandemic or troubled by all the security in place. However, he did deliberate on how the trial may impact his ability to attend his very own wedding set for May 1st in Florida. He was also a supporter of Black Lives Matter.
“If I am part of this jury, then I will not be getting married on that date,” he said before drawing chuckles with “that is me answering, not my fiancée.”
Sure enough, the man was added to the jury, with Judge Cahill offering to him, with a presumed masked smile, “Go ahead and throw me under the bus with your fiancée.”
Juror 23, a white woman, who has lived in the Minneapolis area for 40 years with a background in management and a relative in law enforcement, sounded like an ideal juror given her neutral stance. Before answering questions, she began by “gladly” taking off her mask.
She added that she has seen portions of the arrest video a few times soon after Floyd’s death but was aware there was more to know.
“There’s undoubtedly more information that I don’t have,” said the marketing professional who grew up in western Minnesota. “So I am not in a position to judge … I would need to know more to have a firm opinion.”
Questioned on her opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement, she said: “Black lives matter, blue lives matter, all lives matter is the beginning and the end of it.”
Although the woman truly seemed like she’d serve as a neutral force, the prosecution struck her from consideration.
Meanwhile, the Chauvin team struck down potential Juror 26 who said he wanted to be on the jury to get justice for George Floyd. He visited the site where George Floyd died and the buildings burned down with his wife and daughter.
“When you look at the phrase Black Lives Matter, yes they do matter and I don’t see why anyone would be against that movement,” he said, adding that he finds the co-opted phrase “Blue Lives Matter” in support of police shortsighted, although he does support law enforcement.
The defense used one of their peremptory challenges to dismiss Juror 26.
Juror 27 described as a black man in his 30s or 40s in IT, became the fifth juror seated. He said in court that he discussed Floyd’s death with his wife.
“We talked how it could have been me, or anyone else,” he said. Juror 27 outlined in his questionnaire that he supports Black Lives Matter, believes Black lives are marginalized and would like to serve as a juror in the case.
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.”
Nelson used his fourth strike to excuse Juror 28, who works in real estate and holds a negative impression of Chauvin. When asked by Nelson about putting bias aside, Juror 28 said he won’t forget his impressions, but said he could set them aside if selected by the jury. He said his daughter participated in demonstrations and said that he and his family members have advocated for police reform.
He also admitted he was influenced by the conspiracy theory that Chauvin targeted George Floyd due to a prior relationship which led to his use of “aggressive tactics.”
Juror 29, an attorney and mother of two, offered that she has always wanted to go through jury duty to experience another aspect of the court. Her pro bono work involves legal advocacy for low-income clients.
When Chauvin’s attorney asked her about her negative view of protests following George Floyd’s death she responded, “I believe there is some positive awareness that has come of the incident … I would say overall it’s been negative,” citing destruction of Uptown businesses. She explained that she had seen the video and could offer value.
“I think I would be a good juror given my legal background. I have a lot of assets. Of course, having a small child is a consideration, but then again everyone has outside commitments. I very much believe in my civic duty.”
When asked about racial discrimination by the prosecution, she conceded that equal access to justice and attorneys are not always the case. However, she didn’t agree criminal justice system is racially biased.
“So many people have been focusing on negative cases, negative aspects of police work, that we’re often not really looking at the positive and the positive things that police officers do for society.”
She was struck from the case, likely for being an attorney, not to mention for her deep respect for law enforcement.
Juror 30, who loves musical theatre and interacting with new people, testified he believes Blue Lives Matter is a racist cause, was also dismissed.
Chauvin’s lawyers have used five of their 15 allowed challenges to potential jurors through the first two days of jury selection. Prosecutors have used three of their nine.
So far, the two sides have selected three white men, one black man, and a woman of mixed race to sit on the 12-member panel.
Cahill announces he’ll bring in nine prospective jurors for Thursday’s court hearing. They will be starting the day by reviewing the motion to reinstate the 3rd-degree murder charge (though it appears now it has).
Minneapolis has seen a 250% increase in shootings since last year.
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