Half of the jury that will hear testimony in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was selected by the end of Friday after rounds of questioning that focused on the case's publicity and opinions on racial bias and police reform.
A seventh and lone juror was seated Friday, joining a jury that consists of one multiracial woman in her 20s, one Black man in his 30s who immigrated to the United States, one Hispanic man in his 20s, one white woman in her 50s, a white man in his 20s and two white men in their 30s. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 25 death of George Floyd. Opening statements and testimony are scheduled to begin March 29 and last two to four weeks.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill allotted three weeks to pick 14 jurors, two of them alternates, given the amount of publicity the case has received, but many prospective jurors interviewed over the week said they saw news of the case in passing and could set aside prior knowledge and opinions if they were chosen.
The only juror seated Friday is a white woman in her 50s who works as an executive at a nonprofit that does advocacy work in health care. She has two teenage sons.
She took the unusual move of summoning her own attorney to the courthouse.
At one point, the judge halted a live video feed of the proceeding and cleared the courtroom of everyone except the trial participants because of unspecified privacy concerns.
When the live feed returned, the woman told Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, that she had prior professional dealings with Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting Chauvin, but didn't know him personally.
She later told prosecuting attorney Steve Schleicher that "all of our interactions [with Ellison] were positive at the time" and they would have no impact on her ability to be a fair juror.
The woman said bystander video of Floyd's arrest posted on Facebook 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," she said, "but the bad-behavior police need to go."
She said she had sympathy and empathy for Floyd and the four officers at the scene that night. Chauvin's former colleagues — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — are scheduled to be tried in August on charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
"Everyone's lives are changed by this incident … and it's not easy for anyone," she said.
Under questioning by Nelson, she said the protests that followed Floyd's death had a positive impact because people's voices were heard, and a negative impact because businesses and the community suffered from arson, vandalism and looting.
She said that through her work she's witnessed the impact of discrimination and believes there is a bias in government systems against Blacks and American Indians.
"We've disenfranchised them," she said. "Laws were created many, many years ago that have not kept up with cultural and societal changes."
The juror also said she "somewhat" agrees that police make her feel safe.
"I wouldn't want a community without them," she said. "But I do know … there needs to be some systemic change."
She was followed by a young woman who was quickly excused after explaining that she was starting a new job and moving and could not afford rent if she had to miss work for jury duty.
Another candidate, a recent college graduate, was asked about her ability to consider only the evidence presented at trial and not just the Facebook video.
"What I saw as a human, that did not give me a good impression," said the woman, who had participated in a Black Lives Matter protest in Duluth. "I just couldn't watch it anymore."
Nelson used one of his peremptory strikes to excuse her from the jury.
He's used eight of 15 strikes, which attorneys can employ to dismiss prospective jurors without explanation.
The other side could challenge such strikes, but it's uncommon.
The prosecution exercised one of its strikes to dismiss a man who served in the U.S. Army Reserve for eight years and was deployed to Iraq.
He said he "somewhat" agrees that police should not be second-guessed.
"Being in the military, it's easy for bystanders to say how they would react in that situation," he said, adding that he would not give police testimony more weight than testimony from civilians.
He said "all lives matter" and that the phrase is sometimes "taken the wrong way."
Asked about his thoughts when he arrived for jury duty at the Hennepin County Government Center and saw it fortified with barricades, fencing and armed police and National Guard officers, he replied, "It's impressive. It's like a fortress but also intimidating. To have a gate opened up and armed guards — I haven't seen that in many years since I was in Iraq, and now to have it in your backyard like that is eye-opening."
Prosecutors have used five of nine peremptory strikes.
The trial resumes at 8 a.m. Monday with a discussion on pending motions; jury selection is scheduled to continue at 9 a.m.
Staff writer Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.