The trial of a former Minneapolis police officer in the death of George Floyd has begun, with opening statements scheduled for Monday in a case that triggered weeks of demonstrations and a national reckoning about racial justice.
Even before the city of Minneapolis reached a $27 million payout to Floyd’s family on the fourth day of jury selection, the final juror was selected Tuesday, bringing an end to a process that lasted more than two weeks and was complicated by worldwide exposure to Floyd’s death.
About 100 witnesses were interviewed by attorneys and the judge, with the majority being dismissed because they expressed strong feelings about an incident recorded on bystander video.
There are currently 15 jurors on the jury. Twelve jurors will deliberate, with two alternates; Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill has said that if the 14 other jurors are still willing to participate when opening statements begin on Monday, he will excuse the extra juror.
Derek Chauvin is accused of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death on May 25. Since Chauvin, a white man, jammed his knee against the Black man’s neck for about nine minutes while handcuffed and pleading that he couldn’t breathe, the Black man was pronounced dead. The widely circulated video sparked violent street demonstrations in Minneapolis, which spread throughout the United States and around the world.
The final juror, a white man in his twenties, is a married accountant who expressed reservations about Chauvin, claiming that the duration of his restraint on Floyd was unnecessarily long. He said, however, that he would be able to put that aside and weigh the case on the facts alone.
Floyd’s death, he said, ignited conversations about racism at work, prompting him to educate himself by reading a book on the topic. He said he loves cops and has a favorable opinion of Black Lives Matter. He did claim, however, that some of the tensions spilled over and may have contributed to the violent unrest in Minneapolis.
He also said that he understands why professional players kneel during the national anthem in order to start a debate about race, but that “I would prefer if everyone articulated their views in a different way.”
Earlier in the day, several other possible jurors were disqualified, including a retired truck driver who called a campaign to defund the police “lunacy” and said he would trust police officers over civilians.
The prosecution repeatedly hit people who told the court they already had deep feelings about Chauvin’s guilt during jury selection. The prosecution regularly used its allotted challenges against prospective jurors who were not only supportive of the police but also claimed that their evidence would be favoured over that of others. They also attempted to disqualify prospective jurors who were critical of or skeptical of the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Monday, both sides will make their opening remarks. Legal analysts have said that while the bystander video – which has already been viewed by nearly everyone on the jury – is convincing, a conviction is not a foregone conclusion for prosecutors.
The prosecution has made it clear that they would focus on Floyd swallowing drugs prior to his arrest in order to persuade the jury that he was at least partly to blame for his death. When Cahill said he would accept some evidence from Floyd’s 2019 arrest in Minneapolis, where he also swallowed drugs, defense attorney Eric Nelson gained a partial victory. Paramedics were called to the scene in the 2019 case and observed Floyd’s dangerously elevated blood pressure.
Cahill stated that he will accept medical proof of Floyd’s physical reactions as well as a brief clip from an officer’s body camera footage from the arrest in 2019. Floyd’s “emotional acts,” such as calling out to his mother, he said, would not be tolerated.
Floyd’s death was initially reported as a homicide by the county medical examiner, who said 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.
Complete Coverage: George Floyd passed away.
Nelson had tried to postpone or reschedule Chauvin’s trial, citing fears that the jury pool had been compromised by the city’s settlement with Floyd’s kin. Cahill denied the request last week, calling the timing “unfortunate,” but believing that a delay would do little to address the issue of pre-trial publicity, which he said affects every part of Minnesota.
According to the court, nine of the 15 jurors are white, four are black, and two are multiracial. They are nine women and six men, ranging in age from their twenties to their sixties.
In the event that more alternates are required, the judge said he would keep the jury pool in place before opening statements begin. Despite social distancing, mask-wearing, and plastic shields in the courtroom, Chauvin’s trial is taking place in the midst of the pandemic, putting jurors at risk of becoming ill.
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.