Potential jurors in the Derek Chauvin murder trial were assembled for a fourth day this week, and one found out Friday afternoon that she will join six others already chosen to weigh charges in connection with the death of George Floyd.
Jury selection resumed Friday morning in Hennepin County District Court, where the fired Minneapolis police officer is charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and the newly reinstated third-degree murder count.
On Thursday, several prospective jurors revealed feeling emotionally distressed while viewing video of Chauvin, a white officer, pinning the Black man to the pavement for more than nine minutes at a south Minneapolis street corner as he pleaded to breathe.
Floyd begged for his life with Chauvin's knee on his neck for more than nine minutes and died that night on May 25, setting off sometimes violent and destructive civil unrest for days along much of Lake Street and elsewhere in Minneapolis and parts of neighboring St. Paul.
When court adjourned for the day Friday, the jury so far includes one multiracial woman in her 20s, one Black man in his 30s, one Hispanic man in his 20s, a white woman in her 50s, and three white men, two in their 30s and one in his 20s.
The questioning of jury candidates resumes Monday morning and continues until 14 are chosen. Two of them will be dismissed once the trial in earnest begins on March 29 before District Judge Peter Cahill.
The seventh juror seated is a single mother who is a high-level executive in the nonprofit sector focused on health care. She took the unusual move of summoning her own attorney to the courthouse.
At one point, the judge halted the live external feed and cleared the courtroom of everyone except the trial participants out of unspecified privacy concerns.
She told defense attorney Nelson that she had prior professional dealings with Attorney General Keith Ellison's office, but didn't know him personally. She later told prosecution attorney Steve Schleicher that "all of our interactions [with Ellison] were positive at the time" and would have no impact on her ability to be a fair juror.
The woman said the bystander video left her with a somewhat negative view of Chauvin, explaining that "a man died, and I am not sure that's procedure. ... Not all police are bad, but the bad-behavior police need to go."
At the same time, she acknowledged sympathy for Floyd and the officers at the scene that night, saying, "Everyone's lives are changed by this incident ... and it's not easy for anyone."
She was followed by the next prospective juror, a young woman who was quickly excused after explaining that she was starting a new job and attempting to move.
The day's final jury candidate was just as swiftly dismissed and not even questioned after he told the judge that he felt he could not put aside his opinions about the case while hearing the evidence. He added that he is not well paid and was unsure whether his employer had a policy to help employees who are called away to jury duty.
The first jury candidate to be questioned Friday, a recent college graduate, carefully chose her words as she gave unwavering answers to probing questions.
She was asked about her ability to consider only the evidence presented at trial and not just the widely viewed video.
"What I saw as a human, that did not give me a good impression," said the woman, who disclosed that she participated in a social justice protest in Duluth in the time since Floyd died. "I just couldn't watch it anymore."
Defense attorney Eric Nelson followed with questions about her willingness to accept information about policies that guide police procedure and whether she was willing to listen to both sides. She assured Nelson that she would on both counts if seated. After a brief huddle with his legal team, he used a strike and had the woman dismissed.
The prosecution exercised one of its strikes and dismissed a prospective juror who served in the Army Reserve for eight years and was deployed to Iraq. He was questioned extensively about whether he could give equal weight to the testimony of police officers vs. bystanders at the scene.
"Being in the military, it's easy for bystanders to say how they would react in that situation," the man said, while insisting he would not give law enforcement an edge in credibility. He said the fact that Chauvin also served in the military would not affect his opinion.
The man also attributed to witnesses some the growing tension and stress in the atmosphere as Floyd was being restrained.
"It seemed like it escalated very quickly," he said, "people yelling, people recording. All the while, police are trying to [retain control] of the situation."
On Thursday, Cahill added a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin following a series of appellate decisions that forced him to walk back two of his previous rulings on the matter.
The move endorsed the contention that Chauvin's actions met the definition of a third-degree murder count was seen by some legal analysts as strategic to winning a conviction but not without potential drawbacks.
The revived count provides jurors more opportunities to convict Chauvin and could be viewed as a compromise between the other charges he faces — the more serious second-degree murder and manslaughter. But it presents its own uncertainties.
Former officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are set to go on trial together Aug. 23 on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482