Chauvin trial: MN justices won't review 3rd-degree murder question
Wednesday's court proceedings have ended for the day
MPR News will stream live coverage of the trial on Facebook beginning at 8 a.m. Some images or material discussed during the proceedings will be disturbing to many viewers. Watch the morning session here. Watch the live proceedings here:
3 things to know:
State Supreme Court won’t hear Chauvin’s petition on third-degree murder charge
Still unclear if an unresolved matter on the reinstatement of third-degree murder charges will delay proceedings
Eyewitnesses won’t be allowed to offer opinions on what caused Floyd’s death
Updated 4:45 p.m.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has denied Derek Chauvin's petition to review an appeals court ruling on an additional murder charge against him in the killing of George Floyd.
The state Court of Appeals last week said Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill needed to reconsider the addition of a third-degree murder charge against the former Minneapolis police officer. Cahill had dropped the charge because he said it didn’t apply.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting Chauvin, applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to stay out of the matter.
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The third-degree murder charge is “fair and appropriate” he said in a statement, adding that his team looked forward to putting it before the jury, along with charges of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The news surfaced during Wednesday afternoon court discussion among Cahill and the attorneys. The judge indicated the appeals court order to reconsider third-degree murder is still in play.
“We can talk about this tomorrow morning, its effect,” he told the attorneys. “I think we still have the jurisdictional issue with the Court of Appeals."
Jury selection rolls on
The state Supreme Court’s move became the latest twist in the Chauvin trial. Attorneys on Wednesday worked through the complex effort to build a jury to hear evidence against the ex-Minneapolis police officer, who faces murder and manslaughter charges in the killing of George Floyd.
By early afternoon, two more jurors had been picked, bringing the total to five. The fifth juror chosen is a man who told the court he came to America 14 years ago, speaks multiple languages, works in information technology and is married.
According to an in-court pool reporter, the man is Black. When asked how he felt about receiving a jury summons, he said he was “surprised” and “anxious” because it would be time consuming. But he said he considers jury duty part of his civic responsibility.
Defense attorney Eric Nelson asked the juror about an answer he provided on the written questionnaire about the death of George Floyd. “And you said, ‘It could have been me or anyone else.' Can you explain that a little?” asked Nelson.
“It could have been anybody. It could have been you,” replied the juror. “I also used to live not far from that area (38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis) when I first met my wife. So that is why I said it could have been me. It could have been anybody.”
Asked if he had any particular opinions about the Minneapolis police department or law enforcement in general the man said he did not. The juror also said he felt somewhat supportive of both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter.
“And you wrote that you believe ‘our cops need to be safe and feel and be safe to protect our community,’” Nelson read from the juror’s questionnaire. “Correct,” said the juror.
“And again you would still stand by that proposition?” asked Nelson. “I do,” he replied.
The jury now consists of four men and one woman. Two of the jurors appear to be people of color, based on observations from reporters who are in the courtroom on a rotating basis.
Judge won’t allow Floyd ‘character evidence’
Day 3 of the trial began Wednesday with discussions over words that might inflame and whether terms like "gentle giant" could be used in court to describe George Floyd.
In morning pretrial business Wednesday, Cahill agreed to limit the testimony of an eyewitness who is also a mixed martial arts fighter. The man will be able to offer his observations that officers may have pinned Floyd for much longer than they needed.
Those who witnessed the scene, though, won't be able to offer opinions about what caused Floyd’s death. Cahill ruled similarly on possible testimony by on-duty firefighters who responded to the scene. They will not be allowed to offer a medical opinion about what caused Floyd’s death.
It appears there will be plenty of sidebar conversations at trial when testimony touches on the expression "blue wall of silence," a term used to describe the unwillingness of police officers to speak against fellow officers.
Cahill expressed concern using the phrase could inflame the passions of jurors. Given the level of cooperation between Minneapolis police officers and investigators in the case, Cahill said he wasn't sure when that would be relevant to the testimony.
There may also be several sidebar conversations during testimony from members of Floyd’s family.
Cahill said the family testimony or “spark of life testimony” is a traditional part of murder trials to show that the person killed was loved and valued. But the judge cautioned that he will not allow "character evidence," which he defined as any testimony that may describe Floyd as a peaceful person or "gentle giant."
"As soon as you start getting into propensity for violence or propensity for peacefulness, I think then you’re getting into character evidence,” said Cahill. “That does open the door for the defense to cross-examine about his character for peacefulness.”
Cahill expects opening statements for the the trial on March 29, although it’s still unclear if proceedings will be delayed by the questions around the possible reinstatement of third-degree murder charges.
Some potential jurors feared retaliation
Attorneys on both sides are winnowing a large pool of potential jurors to a final panel of 12, plus two alternates.
The juror chosen on Wednesday morning, described by the in-court reporter as a white man, said that he believes the criminal justice system is unfair to Black people and that they are disproportionately arrested for minor offenses. He indicated a favorable view of law enforcement and said the training officers receive makes them more credible witnesses.
"There is obviously tense situations that officers have to incur in their line of duty, and some of that takes split-second decision-making, right? And is it right to question a split-second decision-making after the fact? And that’s tough to do,” the juror said.
In other high-profile police killings, jurors have had to weigh officers' defense of being forced to make split-second decisions to shoot. This case is different. Chauvin was captured on video kneeling on George Floyd's neck for about nine minutes.
The juror said he's scheduled to get married on May. 1. Cahill said he could blame him if the trial clashes with the wedding.
The defense eliminated a juror that the in-court reporter described as white man in his 60s. His daughter marched in protests after Floyd's killing. He said he had negative impressions of Chauvin, but also of Floyd's brushes with law.
Attorneys on Tuesday quizzed jurors about their knowledge of Floyd’s killing, as well as their opinions on movements like Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. They asked about their experiences with police officers and the court system, as well as their thoughts on people who use illegal drugs.
Six potential jurors were stricken from the pool Tuesday. Prosecutors used one of their strikes on a man who said he believed that police officers had difficult jobs and that people shouldn’t second guess them.
Other would-be jurors were released after saying that security at the court building was intimidating or that they feared retaliation for their involvement with the case.
A 19-year-old who was later struck by the judge told attorneys that he believed the Minneapolis Police Department has a history of corruption, that they “get away with many things,” and that he believes police are “trying to do the best they can not to get their police department defunded.”
Cahill is protecting the identities of people in the jury pool. There are cameras in the courtroom, but they are not allowed to show the potential jurors, who are identified only by number, not name.
Questions of bias
The defense used one of its strikes on Tuesday to dismiss the first potential juror who was questioned in the morning. The woman described herself as being originally from Mexico and said she had problems with English.
But Cahill decided while he didn’t think her not being a native English speaker was a problem, he agreed that she may have trouble following the trial and allowed her to be struck.
A third potential juror questioned was excused after she said she had "strong opinions" about the case and didn’t know if she could be impartial.
Later in the day, prosecutor Steve Schleicher raised questions of bias on the part of defense attorneys, given that they had dismissed two jurors self-identified as Hispanic.
Nelson denied any bias. Beyond the woman who said she was originally from Mexico and had some problems with English, Nelson said the second potential juror was struck because the man’s martial training led him to believe Chauvin used an “illegal” move when he pinned Floyd to the road.
Nelson also said he didn’t think that juror was sincere in his statement that he could be convinced otherwise if evidence contradicted his opinions.
Cahill said Nelson provided a “race neutral” explanation for the strikes.
You can watch a recording of Tuesday morning’s proceedings here. The afternoon proceedings are here.
Who’s who: A look at the key players in the trial.
Need to know: 14 key questions about the trial, answered.
Jury selection: The complex process to pick jurors who will weigh charges fairly.
MPR News on its coverage: Ahead of Chauvin’s trial, Nancy Lebens, the newsroom’s deputy managing editor, answered audience questions about our reporting plans.
George Floyd and his legacy
Remembering George Floyd, the man: Before he became a symbol in the fight for racial justice, friends say Floyd was a “gentle giant” who sought a fresh start.
Making George Floyd Square: Here’s how the site of Floyd’s killing — 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis — is being reshaped.
Calls for change: Here’s what some Floyd activists tell MPR News about their experiences with race in Minnesota, why they march and what they hope for the future.
Judge Peter Cahill: The judge overseeing Derek Chauvin's trial has a reputation for being fair and decisive.
Floyd family lawyer says trial 'a chance for justice': Ben Crump has long represented families of Black people killed by police. Crump says accountability is one thing, but "justice would be them still here with us living."
Minnesota’s reckoning with race and policing was many years in the making: George Floyd’s killing touched off a worldwide reckoning on racial justice and law enforcement, building on the outrage that had grown with each high-profile police killing in recent years.
After Floyd’s killing, police reform efforts not fast or far enough for some: Minneapolis leaders and state lawmakers want changes they say will boost officer accountability and public trust, but not everyone agrees.
Protesters criticize Minneapolis' fortifications ahead of Chauvin trial: Mayor Jacob Frey said the large security presence is not meant to thwart peaceful protests, but to protect people and property. One activist said city leaders are sending the wrong message.
St. Paul police lead training to protect firefighters during mass demonstrations: Firefighters had trouble responding to buildings on fire because of the volatile situation around them.