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Prosecutors Oppose Chauvin Retrial Motion, Calling Arguments ‘Scattershot’

Lead prosecutor Matthew Frank penned 77 pages dismissing the former Minneapolis cop's objections to his trial.

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Prosecutors laid out their opposition to Derek Chauvin’s request for a new trial in a lengthy motion filed Wednesday afternoon. 

The former Minneapolis police officer, convicted of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter late April for the May 2020 death of George Floyd, filed a motion for a new trial early in May.

In it, defense attorney Eric Nelson alleged prosecutorial and jury misconduct, prejudice throughout and errors on the part of Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, focusing particularly on the intense publicity surrounding the case. Prosecutors contested those allegations in Wednesday’s motion, saying that Nelson’s arguments were “scattershot and unavailing attempts to overturn [Chauvin’s] conviction.” 

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, who has been the face of the prosecution team since Chauvin’s case was turned over to Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office in June of 2020, penned the 77-page motion. Chauvin, he wrote, benefited from unusually generous treatment during jury selection, with Nelson receiving 18 peremptory strikes and still having 3 by the end of voir dire. “Having implicitly agreed that his jury was impartial during the jury’s selection,” he wrote, “Defendant cannot claim prejudice now simply because he dislikes the outcome.” 

Frank also discounted Nelson’s contention that Cahill should have granted a change of venue because of the protests Floyd’s death sparked in Minneapolis and around the world and the publicity that followed. Pretrial coverage of the case, Frank said, could not force a presumption of partiality. Additionally, he argued, Floyd’s death and Chauvin’s trial were well known in any part of the state. 

“Because Defendant asks this court for a new trial after having lost the first one, Defendant must show that the jurors who tried his case ‘actually [were] prejudiced by the publicity,’” Frank said, citing case law midsentence. “But he has not — and cannot — meet his burden to establish actual prejudice. Each juror here was carefully vetted in voir dire and affirmed his or her impartiality under oath.” 

Nelson’s misconduct allegations, Frank argued, also did not pass muster. Those include complaints about discovery issues, which Nelson and attorneys for Chauvin’s onetime codefendants Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng raised at various points throughout the case. Frank noted that Cahill had already found no bad faith or intentional violations on the state’s part, and that Nelson had taken advantage of a deadline extension Cahill granted him as a result of discovery issues. 

He also addressed Nelson’s contention that Donald Williams, an eyewitness to Floyd’s death who took the stand early in the trial, wore a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt under his shirt and that this constituted misconduct.

“Defendant presents no evidence that a slogan was clearly visible underneath Mr. Williams’ shirt to participants in the courtroom,” Frank wrote, noting that neither Cahill nor Nelson paid any notice to what Williams was wearing. “That suggests one of two possibilities: Either counsel did not see a slogan, or counsel intentionally remained silent to preserve the issue in the event Defendant lost at trial, in which case the Court should not reward his strategic sandbagging,” Frank wrote. “Even if Mr. Williams had worn a visible slogan and even if the jury had seen it, Defendant presents no evidence of intentional misconduct by prosecutors.” 

Frank paid somewhat more attention to Nelson’s critiques of prosecutor Jerry Blackwell’s closing arguments and rebuttal, during which Cahill admonished Blackwell for using terms like “stories” and “shading of the truth” to characterize Nelson’s case and instructed jurors to disregard the use of the terms. Cahill’s instructions, Frank wrote, rendered any potential error from that issue harmless. 

“The statements were minor parts of lengthy closing arguments, the Court instructed the jurors that the statements of attorneys are not evidence, the prosecutors reminded the jurors that the State had the burden of proof, this court gave proper instructions on the burden of proof, and there was overwhelming evidence of Defendant’s guilt,” he wrote. 

He rejected Nelson’s complaints about the jury, including two jurors who have spoken to the press since the verdict. Efforts to impeach jurors by opening “the black-box of jury deliberations,” he wrote, are only allowed in a narrow range of exceptions, none of which apply. One juror’s statements about the jury’s deliberations, he wrote, did not constitute evidence that the jury failed to follow instructions, and even if they did, “Defendant merely claims that jurors ‘misunderstood or disregarded the judge’s instructions,’ but that is not the proper focus of a Schwartz hearing.” 

The juror’s presence at a rally in Washington, D.C. commemorating the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech also did not need to be disclosed, Frank argued, noting that “Defendant correctly characterizes the event as a ‘civil rights march.’” 

He also worked to refute Nelson’s arguments that the state’s case was cumulative, that Floyd’s friend Morries Hall’s refusal to testify and out-of-court statements were mishandled and that the court should not have allowed the state to ask leading questions of witnesses who were minors at the time of Floyd’s murder. Cahill’s decision not to include the phrase “20/20 hindsight” in jury instructions, he wrote, was also appropriate for a criminal case. 

Chauvin is scheduled for sentencing on June 25. He faces up to 30 years in prison for Floyd’s murder, though Nelson has sought a sentence of probation and time served. Federal civil rights charges are also pending against Chauvin, as are tax fraud charges in his county of residence in eastern Minnesota.

Categories / Criminal, Government, Regional

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