MINNEAPOLIS — Thursday, March 18
- Three jurors seated on Thursday, bringing total to 12
- Judge gives defense three more peremptory strikes, state one more
- Two seated jurors dismissed Wednesday due to influence of civil settlement
- Judge to make decision on whether to delay or move trial on Friday
- Judge also expected to rule on admission of 2019 arrest of Floyd
Twelve jurors have now been seated for the Derek Chauvin trial, and two more are needed before opening statements begin.
Judge Peter Cahill dismissed two jurors on Wednesday after determining that news of a civil settlement between the city of Minneapolis and George Floyd's family impacted their ability to be fair. Two more people were added to the jury later Wednesday, and another three people on Thursday.
Friday is expected to be a big day of decisions in the trial. The judge said he plans to rule at 8:15 a.m. on the defense request to delay and move the trial, based on a concern that the civil settlement could taint the jury pool.
The judge will also rule on whether or not evidence of a 2019 arrest of George Floyd can be introduced, and the scope of testimony allowed by Dr. Sarah Vinson, an expert witness who may be called by the prosecution.
Jury selection wrapped up for the day Thursday with three more people seated. Twelve jurors have now been selected in total, with two more needed.
Judge Peter Cahill said that court will resume at 8:15 a.m. Friday, at which time he will rule on several issues: Whether to move or delay the trial, whether to allow evidence of a 2019 arrest of George Floyd, and what testimony to allow from Dr. Sarah Vinson, one of the prosecution's expert witnesses.
Jury selection will resume after that, at 9 a.m.
A 12th juror was seated near the end of the day Thursday. Only two more need to be selected to fill out the panel of 12 jurors and two alternates.
Juror #92 is a white woman in her 40s who works in insurance and said she loves her job. She has a bachelor’s degree in communication.
She said she has not seen the bystander video of George Floyd in its entirety.
Juror #92 said she believes that there is discrimination in the criminal justice system against Black people and other minorities, but also said that police make her feel safe and she has strong respect for them.
“I’ve had some friends who have been treated differently because of their race,” she said. She said she has a somewhat favorable view of Black Lives Matter but is not involved in the movement herself.
She also said she had a “very favorable” view of Blue Lives Matter. She said she would be “terrified” if the police departments were dismantled, but she believes change needs to happen. When asked to elaborate by the prosecution, she said based on what she sees in the media, “other races aren’t necessarily treated fairly.”
The prosecution also asked Juror #92 about a comment she made about George Floyd having a criminal record. She said she believed he had been “involved with drugs.”
She said drug use would give her pause if she needed to trust the person using drugs. “That doesn’t make them a bad person,” she said. “It would just make me cautious.”
Both the prosecution and the defense passed Juror #92 for cause, and she was seated on the jury.
The 11th juror was seated Thursday afternoon, leaving only three spots remaining on the panel for the Derek Chauvin trial.
Juror #91 is a Black woman in her 60s and a grandmother. She said she will be able to handle conflict in the jury room. “Absolutely, I feel like I do it every day with two grandkids," she told the defense.
She said she knows an officer on the Minneapolis police force, and that she heard about the civil settlement between the city and George Floyd's family, but that neither of those things will impact her impartiality.
Juror #91 said when she received her summons, she was excited to fulfill her civic duty. Before she was retired, she worked in marketing. Her undergraduate degree was in child psychology and she told the prosecution she has worked with underserved children in her retirement.
She said she has no personal experience with the criminal justice system being fair or unfair, but believes in general that Black people and white people do not receive equal treatment. She said she has a favorable opinion of Black Lives Matter, saying, "I am Black; my life matters." She has a neutral opinion of Derek Chauvin because there are two sides to every story and she just knows the surface.
Juror #91 said she used to live within 15 blocks of 38th and Chicago but moved about 25 or 30 years ago. She said she "seldom" visits south Minneapolis now, but doesn't intentionally avoid it.
The defense and the prosecution both passed for cause, meaning they did not us a peremptory strike to remove her, and she was seated as the 11th juror.
A 10th juror was seated for the trial of Derek Chauvin just before lunch.
Juror #89, a white woman in her 50s, is a nurse who said she works with a lot of ventilated patients and cares for COVID patients. Before that, she did cardiac care. She has never worked in an ER but has resuscitated patients before.
The defense asked her several questions about whether her personal medical training will "bias" the way she listens to medical evidence.
“We all use our life experiences to make judgments,” she said.
Judge Cahill stepped in after several questions about her medical experience, explaining to Juror #89 what the defense was trying to get at.
“One of the elements of a fair trial is that we’re all working off the same script,” he said. “You can’t be the expert witness in the jury room. ... You cannot add to the evidence with your own expert opinion."
She said she can follow those instructions.
The prosecution asked her about administering drugs in her role as a nurse, and about working with opiate-addicted patients.
“It could be anybody,” she said.
She said she “somewhat disagrees” with defunding the Minneapolis Police Department. “I believe the police have a job to do and for the most part it gets done, so they need money for that.”
Juror #89 was seated before the lunch break. Court will resume at approximately 1:15 p.m.
Judge Cahill is expected to rule on a request to delay the trial on Friday, but when he told Juror #89 that the opening arguments are March 29, he added, "We're pretty confident in that start time."
Judge Peter Cahill told the attorneys Thursday morning that he will not release jurors identities until he deems it is safe to do so.
"As you all know, judges are very protective of their jurors," he said. "When I feel it is safe for the jurors, I will release their information. Not before."
Cahill told the attorneys that they can communicate that point to prospective jurors.
The state used its sixth peremptory strike Thursday morning, and has four remaining. The defense has six strikes remaining.
Those strikes can be used to remove a juror who is not dismissed for a specific cause by the judge.
The first potential juror to be questioned Thursday, #86, said she had learned about the civil settlement and it "somewhat" moved her. However, she said her feelings were still "around the same," and that she had already been leaning toward the state's case and away from Chauvin's side.
She told the judge regarding media coverage of the case, "It's constantly there and it's tough to avoid it."
The judge excused her from the panel.
The civil settlement is the key issue in the defense request to move or delay the trial, for fear that the widespread news could taint the jury pool. The judge has said he'll rule on those requests on Friday.
Court proceedings Thursday morning began with the defense and prosecution presenting arguments to the judge over an ongoing issue: whether a 2019 arrest of George Floyd can be discussed at trial.
Judge Peter Cahill also needs to decide whether to allow a prosecution expert witness, Dr. Sarah Vinson, to weigh in on George Floyd's behavior during the moments leading up to his death in May 2020.
Cahill said before arguments began that so far, "it would appear to me that the expert testimony of Dr. Vinson would be admissible on 'fairly narrow' issues" such as whether Floyd's emotional response on May 25 was consistent with claustrophobia, anxiety or a panic attack.
Judge Cahill said regarding the 2019 arrest of George Floyd, he stands by his previous ruling that Floyd's emotional state in 2019 and the statements he made at that time are not relevant because "his intention's not at issue here." He had ruled that the defense can't use those things to describe a "modus operandi" when Floyd is arrested.
Whether his emotional response was feigned or genuine doesn't really matter, the judge said, because the question is whether the officers dealt appropriately with what was in front of them.
"The emotions, his response, his statements, whether he was crying or not, are not really relevant," Cahill said of the 2019 arrest.
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell argued on Thursday that Dr. Vinson, a forensic psychiatrist, should be able to offer an interpretation of Floyd's behaviors during the 2020 arrest.
"The behaviors don't speak for themselves necessarily," Blackwell said.
He said the prosecution is concerned with how the defense will interpret them. Blackwell believes the defense will interpret George Floyd's behaviors as "resisting arrest" and "fabricating" trouble breathing.
"Does the noncompliance mean he's resisting arrest?" Blackwell asked. "Or does it mean he's not capable of getting in the car because he's suffering from anxiety?"
Blackwell argued that if the prosecution can't offer a rebuttal, then the defense shouldn't be allowed to say that the behavior was drug addiction or resisting arrest.
"Either both sides can, or neither side can," Blackwell said.
Cahill said he's already considering allowing the 2019 arrest in on a "limited" basis. He said he believes that the fact that Floyd was ingesting drugs and that a paramedic indicated he was in danger of hypertension may be relevant.
However, Cahill reasoned that if the prosecution wants to have an expert assert that Floyd's responses are genuine, he may need to also allow the defense to admit evidence that they believe shows the opposite.
"If you put in this evidence, they are entitled to rebut it," Cahill said.
Blackwell told the judge that Dr. Vinson is intended to be a rebuttal witness. He said if the defense doesn't make those assertions that Floyd was faking claustrophobia or a panic attack, then they would not need to use Vinson in that role.
Chauvin's defense attorney Eric Nelson said he agrees with the judge that either both come in, or neither come in. He said that interpreting the evidence is part of what he does as a defense attorney.
"That's my job as a lawyer is to draw inferences from that evidence," Nelson said. "This is the entire nature of the adversarial system. Here's the evidence, this is how the state interprets the evidence. This is how the defense interprets the evidence. Jury, you decide."
Nelson acknowledged that the state can bring in evidence to offer a different viewpoint on Floyd's behavior - if the defense can interpret it from their own perspective.
Cahill said he will "take this under advisement" and rule on the 2019 arrest, Dr. Vinson's testimony, the request for a continuance and the request for a change of venue on Friday.
On Monday, Derek Chauvin's defense lawyer Eric Nelson expressed concerns that the $27 million settlement, the largest in city history, would affect the impartiality of the already-seated jurors.
Judge Cahill agreed, though he said he didn't sense any "evil intent" from the timing of the settlement announcement. The judge asked the jurors if they'd seen news about the settlement and whether or not it would impact their ability to be fair.
Two of the jurors who had been seated, a white man and a Hispanic man, said they could no longer view the trial impartially. Judge Cahill dismissed them. The number of seated jurors for the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer dropped from nine, including the two seated after the settlement's announcement, to seven.
The questioning of potential jurors continued on Wednesday morning, and by the time court adjourned on Wednesday afternoon, two replacement jurors had been found and the number of seated jurors rose once again to nine. Five more jurors are needed before opening statements in the trial begin in earnest on March 29.
The jurors seated so far are two white men, two white women, two multiracial women and three Black men.
When pretrial hearings resume on Thursday morning, the prosecution and defense will argue what information, if any, should be allowed in the trial regarding a Minneapolis arrest of George Floyd from 2019.
The judge has said that on Friday he will announce a decision on moving the trial to another venue outside Hennepin County, and whether or not he feels the trial should begin at the scheduled time at the end of March.