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Trial Begins Monday For Ex-Minn. Officer Accused Of Killing George Floyd


Jury selection in the murder trial for Derek Chauvin has been delayed at least until tomorrow. Chauvin is the former Minneapolis police officer who was caught on video kneeling on George Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes last May. Floyd's killing set off months of protests for racial justice around the country and around the world. That widespread outrage also led Minnesota's attorney general to take over the case and charge Chauvin with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Chauvin was in court this morning, and NPR's Adrian Florido is in Minneapolis to cover the trial. Good morning, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

DETROW: So this was going to be a big day in Minnesota. Protesters demanded murder charges for Floyd's death. They got them. Jury selection was set to start, but it's now been pushed back until at least tomorrow. What happened?

FLORIDO: Well, you know, the prosecution and the defense in this case have been sparring because the state attorneys prosecuting Chauvin want to add a third-degree murder charge against him to kind of give themselves more options to win a conviction against him. This is in addition to the second-degree murder and manslaughter charges he already faces. And the issue of this new charge reached an appeals court last week, but it still hasn't been resolved. The state does not want to start jury selection until it knows all the charges it's going to be pursuing against Chauvin because it says the charges will affect its theory in the case and potentially who it decides it wants as jurors. The judge is not inclined to delay this much longer, but he did give the state a little bit of time today to pursue an appeal with a higher court. So as of now, the judge, unless he hears from a higher court to stop jury selection, said he plans to continue with it tomorrow morning.

I should say, Scott, that this morning was also the first glimpse we got of the defendant in a long time. Derek Chauvin was dressed in a suit. He was seated next to his attorney. He wore a face mask. He didn't speak, but he seemed very engaged in what was going on. And he was taking notes on a yellow legal pad at the same time that protesters outside were marching and demanding that this trial get underway.

DETROW: You know, you've been in the city for a few days. How are people in Minneapolis feeling about all of this?

FLORIDO: You know, they're nervous. They're hopeful. They're also scared. This is the most important police brutality case in our nation's history, arguably, and an important test of the legal system and its ability to hold police accountable. Yesterday, demonstrators marched to the downtown courthouse. And this is what Jada Pounds (ph) told me.

JADA POUNDS: I want this trial to set the precedent for our legal system to show that we are not going to stand for this because this is not like America that we live in should be for us, especially as people of color and Black people.

FLORIDO: She said a conviction would send a message that police can be punished when they kill. But also, if there's an acquittal, it would send a message that they could kill with impunity.

DETROW: You know, President Biden often quotes Floyd's daughter telling him that "Daddy changed the world." How do you find and seat an impartial jury in a case that had such global repercussions?

FLORIDO: That's going to be a huge, huge challenge. A jury is supposed to be impartial - right? - sort of a blank slate. But with so much attention on this case, I mean, who could you find that hasn't seen that video of George Floyd gasping for breath and not formed an opinion about it? It's going to be interesting to see how lawyers for both sides approach this task of jury selection. We saw a questionnaire that went out to prospective jurors. And we expect that they'll be asked about their views on things like Black Lives Matter, on police brutality, whether they've attended protests. And jury selection is supposed to take up to three weeks because of how tedious it's supposed to be.

DETROW: The prosecution is being handled by the office of Attorney General Keith Ellison. He's conceded he's under a lot of pressure here.

FLORIDO: Immense pressure in part because the reality remains that convicting a police officer is not an easy task. This is something that Ellison has said before. It's also something that activists on the ground who really want a conviction are mindful of. So that is something that, you know, the city is bracing for. There's also a lot of security that has been put in place for this trial - barricades, National Guard troops patrolling the city, a guarded situation here in Minneapolis.

DETROW: All right. NPR's Adrian Florido in Minneapolis, thank you so much.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.