MINNEAPOLIS — Monday, March 15
- Jury selection to resume Tuesday morning
- Two jurors seated Monday, five more need to be selected
- Five are white, four are people of color; three are women
- City of Minneapolis approved record $27 million settlement for Floyd family in civil lawsuit over his death
- Judge takes request for 'continuance' under advisement amid concern that news of civil settlement could taint jury pool
The judge in the Derek Chauvin trial is considering a defense request for a delay, due to the concern that news about a historic civil settlement with the George Floyd family could taint the jury pool.
On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council approved a $27 million settlement with George Floyd's family over his death. It is the most substantial in city history and one of the largest in U.S. history.
Monday morning during pretrial motions, defense attorney Eric Nelson said he is "gravely concerned" about the potential of that news to prejudice the seated jurors and other prospective ones.
Selection for the 14 potential jurors began on Tuesday, March 9, and is continuing into the second week. Nine jurors have been chosen and five have yet to be found to fill out the 14-person panel - 12 jurors and two alternates.
Judge Cahill said Monday that he will take a request for a continuance, or a delay, under advisement. He denied the defense request for extra peremptory strikes - that they could use to dismiss more jurors without cause. And he said eventually he will call back the seven jurors who were seated before the settlement, to ask them what they know and if they can set it aside.
Court is adjourned for the day, with pretrial motions to resume Tuesday at 8 a.m. Jury selection will continue after that, around 9 a.m.
Two more jurors were seated on Tuesday, making for nine total. Five people are still needed to complete the panel of 14, including 12 jurors and two alternates.
The judge has not yet ruled on a defense request for a continuance, or delay, based on the public announcement of a civil settlement related to George Floyd's death.
As of Monday, the jurors seated so far are three white men, two white women, a multiracial woman, two Black men and a Hispanic man.
Court is in recess until 3:05 p.m., at which point the judge, defense and prosecution will question one more juror before ending for the day.
Two jurors have been added to the jury so far on Monday, making for nine total. Just before the break, the defense used a peremptory strike to dismiss someone. They now have six strikes left, and the prosecution has five.
Before jury selection resumed for the afternoon, Judge Peter Cahill took a moment to address the racial makeup of the jury.
He said that race and ethnicity data of jurors cannot be released to the public except by court order. He ordered that it be released, but only for jurors who are seated on the jury.
"I think it is a much better practice, instead of making the media guess, sometimes inaccurately, to disclose how that person self-identifies," Cahill said.
Just before noon, a ninth juror was seated for the Derek Chauvin trial. Court is now in recess until 1:30 p.m.
Juror #55 is a white woman in her 50s who is a single parent and works in the health care field. She said she manages conflict regularly at work when helping to resolve patient issues.
She said she rides a motorcycle in honor of her late husband. The prosecution asked her if she has gone to Sturgis, and she said not in a long time.
The woman said she believes all lives matter and responded on her questionnaire that she has a neutral or slightly negative view of Black Lives Matter.
“All lives matter to me, it doesn’t matter who they are or what they are,” she said. She didn’t remember why she responded the way she did about Black Lives Matter on her questionnaire, but said she might have thought that “maybe they were taking it too far.”
However, when questioned by the prosecution she said, “Maybe they felt that they never were seen, they never were heard, whereas I don’t believe that to be true. But I’m not them and I might see things in a different view.”
She said she has never watched the whole bystander video of the moments leading up to George Floyd’s death because it was disturbing. But she said she would be willing to watch it during the trial if she were seated as a juror.
She drew a strong distinction between rioting and protesting, and said during the unrest following Floyd's death that she was afraid it would come to her neighborhood.
Juror #55 told a story of witnessing police respond too aggressively to a boy with a water bottle in his hand last summer. That boy was white, she told the prosecution.
She said she has trust in the police “until they show me something different” but that she will be able to give the word of a bystander equal weight when witnesses testify at trial.
The defense and the prosecution both "passed for cause," meaning they will not use a strike to remove the woman from the jury. She was seated as the ninth juror.
The eighth juror has been seated in the Derek Chauvin trial.
Juror #52 described himself as “majorly into sports,” writing and music. He coaches youth sports.
He is in the banking industry and said the “consistency” draws him. He was asked if he knows anything about the civil litigation around George Floyd’s death, and he said no. He was described by the pool reporter as a Black man, likely in his 30s.
Juror #52 said he deals with conflict regularly as a coach, mediating disputes with parents. He said he allows each person to “get their voice heard” and “see if they can come to a common ground or agree to disagree.”
He told the defense that he is “neutral” about Chauvin because he doesn’t know his thought process, and that he thinks George Floyd looked like a regular guy. He said he thinks discrimination is “well beyond what the media can even report,” and said he supports Black Lives Matter.
Juror #52 told defense that he has personally witnessed Minneapolis police officers use what he saw as excessive force, but he also said he goes to the gym with officers who are “great guys.”
The prosecution asked him about a statement he made that no one had an intent for someone to die. They said he will have to judge intent, and put aside that presumption. “I don’t think it would be that difficult at all,” he said.
When the prosecution asked him what he thinks of people who use drugs, he said that’s something they struggle with but “they’re still just like anybody else.”
He said on the stand that he can “for sure” set aside any opinions about the case and judge it fairly, based on only the evidence.
Both the prosecution and the defense "passed for cause," meaning they have no objection to the man serving on the jury. He was seated just before the midday break at 10:30 a.m.
Less than an hour after a defense motion to delay the trial over news of a civil settlement, a juror was dismissed based on that same development.
Judge Peter Cahill told Derek Chauvin's defense attorney Monday morning that he will consider a request for a continuance of the trial because of the possibility that the historic settlement over George Floyd's death could taint the jury pool.
The judge said that he will begin asking prospective jurors what they know about that news.
The first person to be questioned Monday after that conversation was a woman who said she heard about the settlement after it was announced.
The woman said she works in HR and understands that with civil cases, "the preponderance of the evidence leans toward guilt." She said she knows civil cases have a different burden of proof from criminal cases.
However, she said that when she heard the settlement was for $27 million, she "almost gasped at the amount."
"I would like to think of myself as somebody who tries to be impartial but I’ve just been exposed to so much information," she told the judge. "And when that happened it just leaned me so far to one side over the other that I couldn’t say under oath that I would be able to take that off my mind."
Cahill dismissed the woman for cause, meaning that neither the defense nor the prosecution needed to use a strike to remove her from consideration.
Eric Nelson, defense attorney for Derek Chauvin, told the judge Monday during pretrial motions that he is "gravely concerned" about the impact from news of a record settlement between the city of Minneapolis and George Floyd's family.
The $27 million settlement was announced Friday. Nelson said he is worried about that news prejudicing potential jurors.
That's in addition to "all the high-ranking state officials that made comments at the onset of this entire situation," he said.
Nelson said the news has "very suspicious timing to say the least, and has an incredible propensity to taint a jury pool."
Nelson pointed out that the judge has told the seven jurors seated already that they should avoid news about the case but are allowed to scroll through social media.
"There are things the court should potentially be obligated to do to protect the jury from future press releases," he said.
Nelson requested a continuance of the trial and a renewal of his change of venue motion.
"I think there are things that the court must do which includes calling back the seven jurors that are already seated, asking them about the settlement," Nelson added.
Nelson said a press conference with the mayor of Minneapolis, city council leaders and the Floyd family on Friday "goes straight to the heart of pretrial publicity in this case."
Nelson also asked the judge to "strongly consider providing the defense with extra strikes" and "strongly consider the immediate sequestration of jurors" for the remainder of the court proceedings.
The judge allowed prosecutor Steve Schleicher to respond to Nelson's argument.
"There are some things that the state of Minnesota and this prosecution team can control, and there are some things that the state cannot and does not control," Schleicher said. "We cannot and do not control the civil aspect of the case, we cannot and do not control the Minneapolis city council, and we certainly cannot and do not control the news cycle."
Schleicher argued that the jury pool has already been exposed to other news about the case, and that they are selecting only people who can set that aside.
"While potential jurors have been exposed to media in the case," Schleicher pointed out, "the jurors that we've seated have expressed that they can set anything they've heard outside the courtroom aside, and judge the case based on the evidence."
Schleicher said he believes the jury selection should continue as scheduled, and that he would oppose any extra strikes as "premature."
"You would agree that it's unfortunate, wouldn't you?" Cahill said. "That we have this reported all over the media while we're in jury selection."
Judge Cahill said the defense and even the prosecution should have a legitimate concern about the impact, and said there's been other "prejudicial" pretrial publicity aside from this.
"I don't think it's appropriate for extra strikes," Cahill said, because if someone has read something and can't put it aside, he will strike that person for cause anyway.
"I'm gonna grant the motion that at some point, probably after we are finished selecting, that we call back the seven to see if they've read anything and if it changes their mind about being fair and impartial," Cahill said.
Cahill also said he doesn't sense any "evil intent" on the timing.
Judge Cahill said he will move forward for now, but he's taking the motion for a continuance under advisement.
Pretrial motions began at 8 a.m. Monday, an hour ahead of jury selection, for the second week of the Derek Chauvin trial.
The judge first heard a motion from the prosecution to place boundaries around the testimony of one of the defense's expert witnesses, Dr. David Fowler. Fowler is the former Maryland Chief Medical Examiner.
The prosecutor told the judge that because Dr. Fowler was one of more than a dozen contributing experts to a forensic panel report on "medical causation," the state is concerned that Fowler will be testifying about others' opinions, and not just his own. The prosecutor asked the judge to rule that the doctor can only speak about his own opinions and analysis. The prosecution also asked for a hearing to question the doctor without the jury present.
The defense said the panel model for the report is a "common" format. "It's a peer-reviewed process," he said. "In this particular case, Dr. Fowler is the primary examiner."
Judge Cahill ruled that Fowler will be limited in his testimony to what falls within expertise of a forensic pathologist, just like any other expert witness.
The judge also heard defense concerns about boundaries around a prosecution witness, Dr. Sarah Vinson. The judge said that Vinson, a forensic psychiatrist, can weigh in on the video and how George Floyd's actions may be "consistent with" some human reactions like anxiety and panic. But the judge acknowledged that the expert can't diagnose Floyd with a condition like PTSD after his death, or speculate on his state of mind.
Cahill said Vinson can say things like "his actions are consistent with a panic attack, his actions are consistent with anxiety, his actions are consistent with somebody who suffers from claustrophobia." But Cahill added, "I think the one that may be problematic is PTSD."
As the prosecution and defense resume their vetting of potential jurors, Judge Cahill said Friday that he may start asking potential jurors to self-identify their race on the stand once they are chosen. Previously the courts have been releasing the self-identified race from the jury questionnaire each person has filled out.
Three of the seated jurors so far are white men, one is a multiracial woman, one is a white woman, one is a Black man and one is a Hispanic man. Seven more people are needed to fill the jury of 12 sitting jurors and two alternates.
The judge said that opening arguments will not start until March 29, even if all the jurors are selected before that.