Jury selection underway in Derek Chauvin's murder trial

By Paul Walsh
Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS
A Minnesota National Guard member outside the Hennepin County Government Center on the second day of the trial of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin Tuesday in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS - Jury selection began Tuesday in Derek Chauvin's murder trial while the Minnesota Court of Appeals contemplates whether an additional murder charge should be filed against the fired police officer.

Proceedings in Hennepin County District Court began about 8 a.m. with the sorting of more legal issues in connection with the trial of the fired police officer who one evening last May rendered George Floyd unconscious while pinning him to the pavement at a south Minneapolis street corner.

Much of Monday's court time was spent on Judge Peter Cahill hearing from attorneys about whether a third-degree murder count needs to be reinstated before the lawyers start screening potential jurors before a global television audience.

The waiting game was noted during the opening 30 minutes of Tuesday's proceedings, when Cahill asked whether anyone had heard yet from the Court of Appeals.

Upon seeing prosecutor Matthew Frank check his cellphone, the judge said, "You can all check your phones just to see where we are at." No one saw anything from the higher court.

So far, Chauvin stands charged solely with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd, a Black man whose death under the knee of a white officer sparked days of rioting in Minneapolis and St. Paul, along with protests around the country.

Numerous prospective jurors were brought in to the courtroom shortly after 9 a.m. Cahill did explain that additional charges could be added against Chauvin.

Attorneys on both sides introduced themselves. Defense attorney Eric Nelson rose and introduced himself. He did the same on behalf of his client, who stood quietly at his side.

Cahill went over the usual briefing for the prospective criminal trial jurors but also cautioned them not to read or watch any news coverage. He also informed them that the proceedings are on live television and that their voices will be heard but their faces not shown.

Nelson spent much of his time questioning the first potential juror, a married mother of three from Mexico, about the witness video that showed Chauvin pressing his knee against Floyd's neck for roughly 9 minutes, a visual that sparked riots and protests across the country.

The woman acknowledged that when she first saw that video she recalled Floyd saying "I can't breathe" and thinking at that moment "'He can't do that. Hey, don't do that or he's going to die. I feel that's not fair. We are humans.' "

Nelson asked the woman whether she could change her mind about that video upon hearing all the evidence during the trial, and she responded that she could. However, Nelson did point out that she answered on her questionnaire before reporting Tuesday that she wanted to be on the jury because "I would like to give my opinion of the unjust death of George Floyd."

Nearly an hour into the selection, Cahill told the first potential juror to be questioned that she was dismissed. Afterward, he told the attorneys that he received a text from a retired judge indicating he could see the potential juror's reflection in the plexiglass. He said the issue would be resolved over the lunch break.

Afterward, the second potential juror, a man who works as a chemist, was called to the courtroom. He said he believed he could be impartial and under questioning by Nelson, said he considers himself logical. Questioning continued Tuesday morning.

Prosecutors called the Court of Appeals and filed a motion Monday asking them to postpone the trial but had not heard back by the end of the day. Ellison's office, which is running the prosecution, wants to reinstate the third-degree murder count against Chauvin based on a Feb. 1 Court of Appeals ruling in the unrelated murder case and conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor.

The lead prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Frank, argued that Chauvin's trial should be suspended since Nelson has asked the state Supreme Court to review how the Noor decision might apply to Chauvin's case.

Amid motions hashed out Tuesday morning was discussion of the scope of testimony allowed from Minneapolis firefighter Genevieve Hansen, who was caught on bystander video attempting to intervene while off-duty and repeatedly urging the officers to check Floyd's pulse and render aid.

"While she may be certified to perform CPR, she is not a pathologist, she is not a physician of any nature and whether or not she would have prevented Mr. Floyd's death had she intervened would be speculative," Nelson said.

Sundeep Iyer, one of the co-prosecutors on the case, said that Hansen would only testify to her observations that day.

"We're only offering her narrow belief that if she was able to intervene, if someone was able to intervene, to explain her observations," Iyer said.

The judge ruled that Hansen could testify to what she observed but could not speculate on whether Floyd could be saved.

Cahill also ruled there be no reference during the trial to Chauvin's firing the day after Floyd died. The judge said that anyone speaking in court must use "ended his employment" and not "terminated" in reference to when Chauvin became a former officer. Cahill said he didn't want the firing to suggest Chauvin's guilt to the jurors.

Also Tuesday, one of the prosecutors participating remotely for the first time was admonished by Cahill for referring to the defendant as "Chauvin." The judge interrupted him with a stern warning to address everyone by title, so it's "Mr. Chauvin."

Former officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are scheduled to go on trial together on Aug. 23 on charges of aiding and abetting and murder and manslaughter in the death the 46-year-old Floyd, whose detention was captured on witness video seen around the world.