Chauvin jury set, court in recess until Monday when trial begins

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Rochelle Olson, Paul Walsh, Star Tribune
·4 min read
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The final juror was selected Tuesday in the trial of fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

Court is now in recess until 9 a.m. Monday, when opening statements will be made by both sides. The fourth jury candidate interviewed Tuesday was the 15th and final juror chosen. But the juror, a recently married white male accountant in his 20s, will be dropped from the panel if the first 14 show up for duty at the heavily guarded downtown Minneapolis courthouse.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who is presiding, said he will keep 14 jurors, including two alternates, for the trial expected to last a month. Spacing requirements in the courtroom because of the COVID-19 pandemic don't allow for additional alternates.

At the conclusion of the trial, the two alternates will be dismissed and a dozen jurors will deliberate to see whether they can reach unanimous agreement on the three criminal counts Chauvin faces.

The longtime officer, who was captured on bystander video kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, is charged with second- and third-degree murder as well as manslaughter. Three other fired Minneapolis police officers, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao, are expected to stand trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

Throughout selection, Chauvin sat quietly next to his lawyer Eric Nelson. He wore suits and ties every day, usually blue or pale gray, and made notes on a large yellow legal pad. He wore a mask much of the time and rarely showed emotion beyond an occasional tight smile when he removed the mask as he was introduced to prospective jurors.

Sometimes, Chauvin would confer with Nelson and defense assistant Amy Voss, but his voice was not heard in the room or on the livestream.

Of the 15 selected to judge him, there are six people of color and nine white people. Nine jurors are women, and six are men. Chauvin is white. Floyd was Black.

The jurors are: A multi-race woman in her 20s, a multi-race woman in her 40s, two Black men in their 30s, a Black man in his 40s, a Black woman in her 60s, four white women in their 50s, a white woman in her 40s, a white man in his 30s, two white men in their 20s, and a white woman in her 20s.

Juror selection lasted more than two weeks and was nearly derailed by the announcement by the city of Minneapolis on March 12 of a record $27 million lawsuit settlement with Floyd's family. Cahill recalled seven jurors who were seated before the announcement and then dismissed two of them from duty after they said the payout amount swayed them.

A week ago, city leaders discussed the settlement at yet another news conference. An overwhelming majority of the prospective jurors who arrived for questioning after the announcement were aware of it.

The juror seated Tuesday said he heard about the settlement but that it wouldn't impact his ability to serve in the criminal trial. The man, who is moving out of Minnesota in late May, said he thinks analytically thanks to his profession and could weigh the evidence fairly.

He said he has a neutral opinion of Floyd and a generally favorable view of the Black Lives Matter movement, but he believes it was "a contributing factor" in the violent unrest that followed Floyd's death.

Concerning the mission behind the alternative Blue Lives Matter rallying cry on behalf of police, he wrote months ago in his juror questionnaire that it "has not done enough to enhance the conversation about other issues such as gun control." He said that while he understands why athletes kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in America, he wishes they would do so in a different manner.

The identities of the prospective jurors were not revealed during selection and will remain guarded for the duration of the trial. Although the selection process was livestreamed and available globally, no jury candidates' images were shown and the court often warned them against sharing information so personal that it could reveal their identity.

Throughout the process when a juror needed to provide sensitive details, Cahill would silence the public audio feed so the discussion wouldn't be broadcast.

The jurors were told that Cahill will eventually reveal their names when he deems it "safe" to do so. The seated jurors were all asked — during questioning in court and on the 14-page written questionnaires they filled out beforehand — about their personal safety concerns.

Generally, those who expressed deep fears or concerns were dismissed.

Among those watching the selections was Ben Crump, the attorney who helped the Floyd family win the $27 million settlement and who stood with Mayor Jacob Frey on stage for the announcement.

"This is not a hard case," Crump said in a news release after selections were finished. "George Floyd had more witnesses to his death than any other person ever — white or Black. We all saw the same thing — the indisputable and unjustified torture and murder by a police officer of a Black man who was handcuffed, restrained and posed no harm."

rochelle.olson@startribune.com • 612-673-1747

paul.walsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482