Two jurors were dismissed Wednesday amid news of a record-setting settlement, and two more took their place on the panel that will decide whether a former Minneapolis police officer is guilty of murdering George Floyd last May.
"We're back where we started this morning," Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said at the end of the day.
That means nine jurors have been seated for the trial of ex-officer Derek Chauvin expected to start March 29. Five more jurors are needed, including two alternates, for the murder and manslaughter trial.
Jury selection began smoothly enough last week, but on Friday, Minneapolis leaders announced a $27 million settlement with Floyd's family. Because of the publicity surrounding that decision, Cahill brought back for virtual one-on-one questioning the seven jurors who were seated before what he called the "unfortunate broadcast" of the settlement.
Of those seven, Cahill dismissed two jurors, a white man in his 30s and a Hispanic man in his 20s.
The white man in his 30s said he was "swayed" by the "sticker shock" at the settlement amount. "That dollar amount was kind of shocking to me," he said.
The Hispanic man in his 30s said the settlement "kind of confirms opinions that I already have. … I think it will be hard to be impartial."
Cahill kept a female juror, a white nonprofit health care executive in her 50s, who said she had been thinking about the settlement. Cahill asked how she would respond to a fellow juror bringing up the payout during deliberations, and she replied, "I would say that has nothing to do with what we're discussing at this time. … It's not part of the case."
At the end of the day, Cahill announced that he had doled out additional discretionary strikes to the defense and the prosecution. He gave the defense three more and the state one. The defense has used 12 of 18 and the state used five of 10. Jury selection resumes Thursday morning.
The court planned three weeks to select a jury of 12 and two alternates for the livestreamed trial that is expected to last at least a month. The process was painstaking enough but became even more so after city leaders announced their settlement announcement last week to the chagrin of those in the courtroom for the criminal trial.
Cahill said he would rule Friday on defense attorney Eric Nelson's request to delay the start or move proceedings to another city because of the pervasive publicity about the settlement. The state opposes both.
Cahill has pressed prospective jurors about their knowledge of the settlement, with mixed responses, but by the end of the day Wednesday two new jurors had been seated.
The new male juror seated is a married Black father who lives in the suburbs and disagrees with the concept of "defunding" law enforcement. He said, "The police do a lot. … I would trust the police."
The second juror seated is a married mixed race woman in her 40s who has a son. She is an organizational consultant who helps corporations improve personnel practices and efficiency. She said she spends a lot of time at ice hockey arenas.
Asked about the civil settlement, the woman said it wouldn't impact her. "I don't think that declares guilt one way or the other," she said. "I think people settle suits for many other reasons."
The jury includes five people of color and four people who are white. Five are men; four are women. Two are in their 20s, and three are in their 30s. Two each are in their 40s and 50s.
Despite the high-profile trial occurring in a heavily fortified courthouse that is essentially closed to all other business, the judge has been mostly calm and conversational on and off the bench. But that was not the case Wednesday when he issued a blistering warning to the media.
Cahill warned journalists who rotate daily in pairs into the 18th-floor courtroom against reporting what they see on Post-its, notepads and computer screens on the desks of the lawyers and their assistants. He also threatened the media with banishment from the courtroom if they repeat details about security measures in the building.
The judge, who months ago approved the unprecedented livestreaming of the proceedings, called such reporting "extremely irresponsible."
Cahill then proceeded with jury selection.
In addition to ruling on the defense motions about the trial's start date and location, the judge also is expected to rule soon on which details, if any, he will allow from Floyd's May 2019 encounter with Minneapolis police, a year before the incident in which he died.
In both incidents, Floyd swallowed drugs. In the earlier one, captured on police body camera video, the drugs led to a "hypertensive emergency" and the then-45-year-old Floyd's hospitalization.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Three other fired officers who assisted in Floyd's 2020 arrest — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — are scheduled to be tried in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
Staff writer Chao Xiong contributed to this report.