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Floyd’s death trial will not be moved; a 13th juror will be chosen.

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Floyd's death trial will not be moved; a 13th juror will be chosen.
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Floyd's death trial will not be moved; a 13th juror will be chosen.

Floyd’s death trial will not be moved; a 13th juror will be chosen.

 

A judge said Friday that he would not postpone or move the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer convicted in the death of George Floyd because a $27 million payout for Floyd’s family could taint the jury pool, but he will accept minimal evidence from a 2019 arrest.

After attorneys seated only one more juror on Friday, the jury selection in Derek Chauvin’s trial will begin for a third week. The 13th juror is a woman who claims she has only seen snippets of the footage of Floyd’s arrest and wants to hear more about what happened before he was arrested.

Judge Pete Cahill of Hennepin County said court will resume Monday to select two more jurors, bringing the total number of jurors to 15, which is one more than anticipated. When asked about the apparent inconsistency, a court spokesman quoted Cahill’s November order, which stated that up to 16 jurors would be seated — 12 to deliberate and four alternates.

When the Minneapolis City Council revealed last week that it had overwhelmingly accepted the huge settlement to settle a civil rights lawsuit over Floyd’s death, seven jurors had been selected. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, then filed a motion to halt or move the proceedings, claiming that the timing of the deal was profoundly upsetting and jeopardized Chauvin’s right to a fair trial. Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges.

However, Cahill, who called the timing “unfortunate,” believes that delaying the trial will do little to alleviate the issue of pre-trial publicity, which he claims has reached every corner of Minnesota.

The judge ruled in favor of the defense, allowing the jury to hear evidence from Floyd’s arrest in 2019, but only details about the cause of his death in 2020. Floyd swallowed drugs after police approached him, he said, and there were some parallels between the two encounters.

The judge had previously ruled that the earlier arrest could not be admitted, but he changed his mind after narcotics were discovered in January during a second search of the police SUV in which the four officers tried to place Floyd last year. Floyd’s drug use, according to the prosecution, led to his death.

Cahill claimed that he will accept medical proof of Floyd’s physical responses, such as his dangerously high blood pressure when he was checked by a paramedic in 2019, as well as a brief clip from an officer’s body camera footage. Floyd’s “emotional acts,” such as calling out to his mother, he said, would not be tolerated.

However, Cahill stated that he would not allow a forensic psychiatrist to testify for the prosecution. Before the fatal incident last year, Floyd said he had claustrophobia and refused to get into the police car, and the state required Dr. Sarah Vinson to testify that his acts were consistent with a normal person experiencing extreme stress, rather than faking or resisting arrest.

The judge said he could reconsider allowing her to testify as a rebuttal witness if the defense opens the door, but allowing her to testify might cause all of the evidence from Floyd’s arrest in 2019 to be admitted.

“Clearly, there is a cause of death question here, and it is hotly contested,” Cahill said, adding that Floyd’s heart issues and substance use were involved in both arrests.

Floyd’s death was originally reported as a homicide by the county medical examiner, who claimed that he “had a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by police.” Floyd was pronounced dead 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) from where he was detained at a hospital.

He died of “cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” according to the full study. Fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use were classified as “other serious conditions” but not as “cause of death” in a summary study.

According to Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, the earlier arrest adds more weight to the prosecution proposal to argue that Floyd put his life in danger by swallowing drugs again, and that this, along with his health issues, caused his death.

“Jurors are not meant to be swayed by that kind of thing,” Sampsell-Jones explained.

Floyd, a Black man, was pronounced dead on May 25 after Chauvin, a white man, jammed his knee against his neck for nine minutes while handcuffed and pleading that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd’s death, which was caught on camera by a bystander, sparked weeks of often violent demonstrations around the country and prompted a national reckoning on racial justice.

According to the court, the 13 jurors seated through Friday are separated by race: seven are white, four are black, and two are multiracial.

It’s unknown who will serve as substitute jurors. Legal scholars say it’s almost always the last people selected, but the court says that won’t be the case in Chauvin’s case. Kyle Christopherson, a spokesman for the company, said alternates could be selected in “many different ways,” but declined to elaborate.

“You can see why (Cahill) may want to do something different in this situation, like draw numbers from a hat,” Sampsell-Jones said. He claimed that the judge wants all jurors to pay attention and that he does not want the media to hear that they are alternates.

The woman picked Friday — a white woman in her 50s — said she’s never seen police officers use more force with Black people or minorities than with white people, and that there’s nothing to fear from police if people cooperate and comply with commands. She stopped short of suggesting that anyone who refuses to cooperate is deserving of harm.

“Obviously, something more has to happen to remedy the situation if you’re not listening to the commands,” she said of the officers’ conduct. “I’m not sure how far the steps can go.”

Several possible jurors were dismissed on Friday, including a college student who participated in demonstrations calling for Chauvin and the other officers to be shot and convicted, and a man who said he wouldn’t trust the testimony of Minneapolis police officers because he feels they’re trying to hide something.

If the jury is full, opening statements will be held on March 29.

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