George Floyd Case: Jury Selection In Chauvin Trial Delayed Over Murder Charge Appeal
Updated at 3:35 p.m. ET
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill postponed the start of Derek Chauvin's trial in the killing of George Floyd on Monday, after an appeals court ordered him to reconsider his original decision to dismiss a third-degree murder charge against the former Minneapolis police officer. The decision came as a pool of potential jurors waited to start the selection process.
The delay comes as Chauvin's defense attorney, Eric Nelson, said he is finalizing an appeal asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the question of whether Cahill should consider reinstating the murder charge.
"We're prepared to try this case. It is not our intent to cause delay," Nelson said. As he spoke in court, Chauvin took notes at a desk nearby, wearing a blue coat and tie and a black face mask.
Cahill had initially wanted to move ahead with the jury selection process as scheduled, despite lingering uncertainty over what charges Chauvin will face. But with prosecutors saying they would file an appeal of their own to halt the selection process until the charges are set, the judge opted to send the jury pool home for the day.
"Realistically, we're not going to get to any jury selection" on Monday, Cahill said. "We won't have an answer [on the prosecution's appeal] until at least tomorrow. So unless any of the parties object, I'm going to kick our jurors loose and start everything tomorrow with jury selection."
On Friday, an appeals court ordered Cahill to reconsider his original decision to dismiss a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin. Cahill issued Monday's ruling after he, state prosecutors and Chauvin's defense team discussed whether the appeals court's ruling should bring a delay.
Prosecutors warned the judge that moving ahead with jury selection now could create problems in the trial that could lead to an appeal after it ends. They also noted the importance of seating a jury as close as possible to the start of the trial. But Cahill noted that in homicide cases, there is precedent for adding or omitting a charge after a jury is selected.
The prosecution says that until the state Supreme Court rules on the murder charge issue, Cahill's district court does not have full jurisdiction to hear substantive matters, including jury selection. In its own appeal, the state is asking the Minnesota Court of Appeals to keep the trial from proceeding until the murder charge issue is resolved.
With the selection process on hold, Cahill said the court would spend the day hearing the legal teams' preliminary motions, which will set the scope of evidence and testimony for the trial.
The proceedings took place in a Hennepin County courthouse that is heavily guarded and barricaded against potential disruptions in Minneapolis, where Floyd's death last year triggered massive protests. Several hundred people gathered at the court building Monday, in the latest demonstration against police violence and mistreatment of Black people.
After an hours-long recess, the court reconvened early Monday afternoon. Cahill and the lawyers in the case then held a brief meeting in the judge's chambers. Afterward, Matthew Frank, an assistant state attorney general, said that while he and other prosecutors "remain concerned" about moving ahead without a clear ruling on the charges, the state and Chauvin's defense team have begun to work through some of the preliminary motions in the case.
On the sequestration of witnesses, the two sides agreed that after a witness testifies, they can't be called back to the stand again if they have watched the livestream of the trial. But the rule is more relaxed for expert witnesses, who will be allowed to watch other experts' testimony in case they're called upon to provide a rebuttal.
The witness list in the Derek Chauvin case is long: 362 people are on the state's list of potential witnesses, and 400 "all told," including some duplicates from the defense side, Cahill said during Monday's hearing.
Judge and prosecution agree on this motion, no comparisons to Jesus: "The Defendant moves the Court for an Order precluding any expert from likening the death of George Floyd to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the ground that such analogy is prejudicial." (21)— Jon Collins (@JonSCollins) March 8, 2021
Even before the issue of reinstating a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin arose, the trial was expected to last through much of April. Jury selection is expected to last several weeks, as the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys work to select 12 jurors and up to four alternates. Opening arguments aren't expected in the case until the week of March 29.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is leading the state's case against Chauvin. The former police officer's defense team is led by Nelson.
Floyd died in police custody last Memorial Day. His death was captured on video, inflaming nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality that quickly spread around the world. Chauvin held his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly 9 minutes. During that time, Floyd was pinned to the asphalt.
Chauvin was arrested four days after Floyd's death. He and the other three officers who were at the scene — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas K. Lane — were fired one day after Floyd was killed.
Thao, Kueng and Lane face charges of aiding and abetting murder.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.