MINNEAPOLIS — Potential jurors in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin were sent home Monday as the court grappled with an appeal over the possible reinstatement of a third-degree murder charge.
But the judge said he plans to move forward with jury selection Tuesday unless an appeals court steps in.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd last May. Prosecutors contend Floyd, 46, was killed by Chauvin’s knee, compressed against Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes while he was handcuffed and pinned to the pavement.
Legal experts say bystander video of the incident, as well as two autopsy reports, will play central roles in the trial. The question at the heart of the case is whether what people saw on the video was murder or a terrible tragedy.
Three weeks have been set aside to choose the jury. Opening statements are scheduled for March 29.
- The defense and prosecution teams struck more than a dozen potential jurors Monday. Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill ordered potential jurors to report at 8:30 a.m. CT Tuesday, with jury selection expected to begin at 9 a.m.
- Earlier Monday, Cahill recessed court while the prosecution asked an appeals court to say whether jury selection must be halted while the defense asks the state supreme court to review the third-degree murder charge. Prospective jurors were sent home for the day.
- Derek Chauvin appeared in court Monday.
- Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd’s sister and founder of the George Floyd Memorial Foundation, was the Floyd family representative in court and sat in back.
- Leading up to the trial, there have been a handful of peaceful protests, with a demonstration Monday morning at the courthouse and a vigil planned Monday night at George Floyd Square.
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Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd’s sister, thanked supporters after a “very, very emotional day” at a brief press conference outside the courthouse Monday. Floyd shared a few details about her experience as the first family member to sit inside the courtroom during the trial and Derek Chauvin.
“I sat in the courtroom and looked at the officer who took my brother’s life. I just really want that officer to know how much love Floyd had,” she read from a prepared statement.
Floyd got emotional talking about her brother who she said was very family-oriented. “I miss my brother George,” she said. “That officer took a great man, a great father, a great brother, a great uncle and a great father. …We will never get that back.”
Nobody from Floyd or Chauvin’s family was in the courtroom for the start of the afternoon session. In the courtroom were the attorneys, Chauvin, the judge, court personnel, two deputies, two pool reporters, and Court TV’s producer.
The revamped jury box was empty for the afternoon session. The normal seating and finished wood barriers had been replaced with office chairs spaced out with small portable desks before them.
The attorneys and judges went into chambers for a sidebar a little past 1:30 p.m.
Chauvin looked at a headset in a plastic bag on the desk in front of him but did not take it out. There are headsets at all the attorneys’ seats in case anybody wants to listen in or talk on the microphone that way.
Chauvin displayed little if any visible emotion.
Floyd’s sister, Bridgett Floyd, walked in later. She sat in the back, hands crossed over the purse on her lap.
The two sides discussed an array of motions and struck 16 of the first 50 potential jurors. The jurors who weren’t struck for cause were told to arrive at 8:30 a.m. CT Tuesday, with jury selection to begin at 9 a.m. CT.
“Unless the Court of Appeals tells me otherwise, we’re going to keep going,” Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill said.
For several hours Monday a group of more than 100 protesters demonstrated outside the Hennepin County Government Center. Artists and activists drenched flowers and mirrors in what appeared to be fake blood.
As the crowd marched toward the courthouse, organizers encouraged the crowd to chant George Floyd’s name and refrains such as “No justice, no peace,” “How do you spell racist? MPD,” and “Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail.” The crowd heard emotional speeches from speakers including relatives of other Black people killed by police.
Ilhan Idd, 20, said her family was traumatized after her 23-year-old brother, Dolal Idd, was killed by Minneapolis police in December. She said she came to the courthouse Monday “to fight for justice for not just my brother but every Black soul that was taken by a cop.”
Donna Morris and her anti-gun violence organization Mother’s Love have been following the legal developments of the trial so they can help keep peace in the streets. If the trial is delayed, it will only create more tension in a community that is already on edge, Morris said.
“Delaying the inevitable, which is the trial, … only serves to continue to keep the communities under stress,” she said. “Not only are we dealing with the trial, we’re dealing with the effects of the trial.”
Morris said residents are also concerned about having to navigate protests downtown and worry about property being destroyed during demonstrations. “We don’t want our communities burned down, we don’t want our businesses burned down,” she said.
Terrence Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, thanked Americans on Monday for the love they’ve shown to his family.
“It’s kind of surreal right now that we have to basically relive this whole situation all over again,” Floyd said at a press conference in New York. “I’m gonna get through this. I’m gonna help my family get through this.”
Floyd said he planned to travel to Minnesota at the end of the month and be in court following jury selection. “I’m hoping and praying for the outcome that we all want. But you know in reality, I’m gonna say, if it don’t go that way, I just know and believe in my heart that there’s going to be change, regardless, for us as a nation.”
The Rev. Kevin McCall of Brooklyn, New York, speaking alongside Floyd, said the trial marked a “pivotal moment” in the “continuous journey” for justice. He called on protesters to demonstrate peacefully in the coming weeks. “Don’t loot. Don’t do the things of destruction. Do it in peace,” McCall said.
Gwenn Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 when a New York City police officer used a prohibited chokehold, joined Floyd in solidarity Monday. “This case, it touched my heart so personally. As George Floyd said that he couldn’t breathe, my son said he couldn’t breathe, 11 times,” Carr said.
In the Garner case, the officer was fired but did not face criminal charges. “It’s almost seven years now, and we only got one drop of justice,” Carr said. “I hope that they continue to do the right things own in Minnesota. Because we see they did not do the right thing in New York here in my case.”
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill initially ruled that jury selection would begin as scheduled on Monday. But prosecutors responded that they would ask the state Court of Appeals to order Cahill to halt jury selection until a potential third-degree murder charge is resolved.
The appeals court ruled Friday that Cahill should not have refused to reinstate that charge. In Monday’s hearing, defense attorney Eric Nelson told Cahill he will ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review that ruling.
Prosecutors responded by asking the Court of Appeals to halt jury selection until that issue is resolved. In their filing, they said they want to avoid a situation in which there is a mistrial because the district court should not have continued with the trial. The prosecution has only one chance to try Chauvin due to the constitutional protection against double jeopardy, which states a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime.
Cahill sent potential jurors home for the day, and the trial recessed while waiting for the Appeals Court to make a decision. Cahill said jury selection would be delayed until at least Tuesday.
“I did indicate it was my intent that we’d go forward with motions in limine and jury selection, unless someone tells me not to,” Cahill said after the brief recess. “I think realistically we’re not going to get to any jury selection or we won’t have an answer until at least tomorrow.”
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Legal experts say reinstating the third-degree murder charge would improve the odds of getting a conviction. According to Minnesota law, third-degree murder involves “perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind.”
The courtroom on the 18th floor of the courthouse has been revamped to allow for social distancing. Big clear plastic dividers separate Judge Peter Cahill and court staffers from the limited number of other people in the courtroom. Clear plastic dividers also run down the middle of the defense and prosecution tables.
There is space in the socially distanced courtroom for about 17 people, total, plus the jurors and alternates.
Two sheriff’s deputies are providing security inside the courtroom. Other deputies and county security personnel are stationed elsewhere on the 18th floor. At least a few Minnesota National Guard members wearing the insignia of the Red Bulls are on the ground floor.
Chauvin stood at military-like attention as Judge Cahill entered and called court to order, not facing the judge because his seat points off to the side toward the jury box. He wore a black mask and a blue suit.
Several businesses in downtown Minneapolis were boarded up Monday near the Hennepin County Government Center, which is surrounded by barbed wire, fencing and concrete barriers. Activists and artists were gathering in front of the courthouse, trying to process the anger that has been simmering in the city since Floyd’s death last May.
Leesa Kelly, founder of Memorialize the Movement, said she came to the courthouse to urge the city, the Minneapolis Police Department and Chauvin to reflect on the damage done to the community. “We’re going to be out here until they remember, until we see justice,” Kelly said. “It was heartbreaking, it was emotionally exhausting and draining. As a Black woman I felt broken.”
Kelly’s organization has collected more than 750 plywood art murals created during the protests, many of which they displayed in front of the courthouse Monday. Kelly, operations manager at the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum, said the murals are a “symbol of our collective grief.”
Athena Papagiannopoulos remembers feeling “shattered” when officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted after the fatal shooting of Philando Castile in 2016. She has been organizing protests since then, but said she feels like nothing has changed in Minneapolis. Papagiannopoulos said her organization is working with the Floyd family to plan more actions as the trial continues.
“I’m so angry, I’m so sad, it’s just so overwhelming,” said Papagiannopoulos, founder of Visual Black Justice. “The city will just burn again just like last summer if something isn’t done.”
More than a dozen activist groups, including Black Lives Matter Minnesota and Communities United Against Police Brutality, plan a demonstration outside the courthouse Monday, starting at 8:30 a.m. CST, KARE 11 reported.
The George Floyd Global Memorial will hold a gathering with faith leaders at George Floyd Square at 8 a.m. CST, ending in a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m., some of which will be livestreamed, according to the group’s website. The square is at the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue where Floyd died.
On Saturday, dozens of people gathered in front of the Minnesota governor’s mansion in St. Paul to demand accountability for police officers. Many of the roughly 150 people who demonstrated were family members of others who died during police encounters. Similar protests were being organized in cities around the country in advance of the trial of Derek Chauvin.
Last month, city officials began solidifying security plans and establishing a security perimeter around City Hall, nearby buildings and the courthouse where jury selection will begin Monday. Streets will be closed, businesses will be boarded up and National Guard troops and hundreds of law enforcement officers will be in place in anticipation of potential unrest during the trial, set to begin March 29.
Last year, following Floyd’s death, rioting and looting broke out across the city over three nights, and hundreds of buildings were damaged, including some that were set on fire. Protests quickly spread beyond Minneapolis to Saint Paul, then across the nation of world. The large majority of protests throughout the summer were peaceful.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a police reform bill named after Floyd, which would ban chokeholds and neck restraints at a federal level, among other major reforms.
Contributing: Associated Press