Jury Seated in First Trial Over Death of George Floyd

With a full panel of 12 jurors and three alternates, a Minnesota judge put the murder trial over the death of George Floyd to rest until next week.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and defendant Derek Chauvin, right, listen as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides over jury selection in Minneapolis on Tuesday. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — A full jury has been empaneled in the murder case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd, putting an end to a two-week selection process and inching the city closer to its highest-profile criminal trial in living memory. 

The selection of Juror No. 131, a white accountant who said he believed Black Americans are not treated equally by police but expressed wariness of measures like defunding the Minneapolis Police Department, brought the jury panel to a total of 15, including three alternates in case members of the initial 12-jury panel prove unable to serve.

The 15 jurors span a wide range of ages, but most are between 30 and 60. Three are in their twenties and one is in her sixties. The entire jury panel includes four white men, three Black men, five white women, a Black woman and two mixed-race women, adding up to a slight majority of white jurors in a case where race is in the spotlight. The 12 jurors currently expected to hear the case include all four Black jurors and both mixed-race women, making it an even split. 

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill was adamant Monday afternoon about getting a 15th “insurance” juror on Tuesday, saying he’d call 12 potential jurors and go through every one of them if it came to it. 

It didn’t come to that. Cahill dismissed three jurors on Tuesday morning, but the final juror was selected just after 11:30 a.m., and after the selection the judge quickly called a recess until opening statements on March 29. 

Only 14 of the 15 jurors will be seated. If all 14 are still able to serve on Monday, Cahill said he’d dismiss Juror 131. 

The heavy media coverage of Floyd’s death, the protests and riots that followed and the lead-up to Chauvin’s trial have made jury selection an arduous process. The court considered over 130 jurors, and over the course of selection more than 30 of them were struck for cause. Cahill granted each side ample peremptory strikes, but both came close to exhausting them by the end of the process. 

The March 12 announcement of a $27 million civil settlement agreement with Floyd’s family made selection even tenser, with Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson pushing for review of the already selected jurors and eventually for a delay or change of venue. Cahill agreed to re-examine the jurors and dismissed two after they said press from the settlement had impacted their ability to impartially judge the case, but he denied the delay and change-of-venue motions, finding that neither was likely to mitigate the impact of heavy press coverage.

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

He also granted three additional peremptory strikes to Nelson and one to the prosecution team for the trouble. 

“We knew that probably, most jurors were going to be familiar in some way with the case,” former Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty, who also works as an adjunct law professor at the University of Minnesota, said in an interview. “But I think every juror is familiar with the case, and having the settlement by the city announced in the middle of jury selection was really, really unfortunate timing.” 

“That created issues that no one anticipated,” she added, noting that several jurors, including the first juror Cahill called back for review, had mentioned hearing about the settlement and a few had said it would impact their ability to be impartial. 

Moriarty said she was pleased to see a more diverse jury panel than is typical in Hennepin County. Jury pools in the county, she said, are typically not reflective of the size of its Black population, which makes up just shy of 14% of the county. With four black jurors and two jurors of mixed race, this panel outpaces that substantially. 

She was still concerned, she said, with the dismissal of one older Black juror early in the proceedings. The man had affirmed his ability to be impartial, but Nelson dismissed him with a peremptory challenge on the grounds that he had a negative view of the Minneapolis Police Department. The man, who said he had lived in the Southside neighborhood where Floyd died, reported that MPD officers had a habit of playing the Queen song “Another One Bites the Dust” and riding around the neighborhood after Black men were arrested or killed in the area. 

“Why does that make him biased? Because he was a witness to that?” Moriarty said. “I think it shows a very big flaw in the law, and also I would wish that judges would delve more into it, and not be afraid to say ‘this is based on lived experience which is based on race.’”

Opening statements in Chauvin’s case are scheduled for next Monday. Three other former officers charged in connection with Floyd’s May 2020 death are set to go to trial in August. 

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