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Lawyers for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, argued in court on Monday that ongoing protests against the alleged police killing of another Black man in the area, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who police shot on Sunday during a traffic stop, could skew the jury’s final decision and make them afraid of provoking popular unrest.
“This incident last night highlights and brings it to the forefront of the jury’s mindset,” defence attorney Eric Nelson argued.
He suggested jurors should be re-questioned about their backgrounds and sequestered to avoid further exposure to the protests.
“The problem is that the emotional response that that case creates sets the stage for the jury to say ‘I’m not going to vote not guilty because I’m concerned about the outcome,’” he added.
“It’s a different case. It’s a different department,” state prosecutor Steve Schleicher said in response. “World events happen. Things continue to happen in the state despite the fact that we’re all here at trial. That’s just what happens.”
Ultimately, Hennepin County judge Peter Cahill rejected the move to sequester the jury.
“This is a totally different case, and I realise there’s civil unrest, and maybe some of the jurors did hear about that,” he said. “I understand the argument from the defence that this now puts them even more ill at ease, but I think sequestering them would only aggravate that,” he added.
It would be different, Mr Cahill added, if the protests were coming after another verdict regarding a police killing rather than a protest, but said jurors were well aware of the potential heft of the decision they were making before Daunte Wright was killed.
The death of Mr Wright, 20, in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center on Sunday has reignited protests against the police even as tensions were already running high during the trial.
He was shot dead by police when he tried getting back into his car and drive away during a traffic stop on Sunday afternoon. It later emerged at a police news conference that an officer had tried to draw her taser but mistakenly drew her pistol instead before shooting him.
Numerous protesters arrived in Brooklyn Center throughout Sunday night, and police used tear gear and riot gear on the crowd. The Minnesota National Guard were eventually deployed, and there were reports of scattered looting.
During the arguments about potentially re-questioning or sequestering jurors, judge Cahill also mentioned how he believed closing arguments in the Derek Chauvin trial would begin early next week.