Nearly a year after George Floyd died in police custody — setting off massive, anti-racism protests across the globe — the murder trial against the former officer accused of killing him begins in Minneapolis Monday morning.
Jury selection for the trial against Derek Chauvin wrapped on Tuesday and opening statements are expected to kick off at 9 a.m. local time at Hennepin County District Court.
Local law enforcement officials have banded together under “Operation Safety Net” to “ensure the safety of the public” during the trial and provide security during expected demonstrations.
There are currently no imminent or credible threats of violent protests or attacks but about 100 members of the Minnesota National Guard will be stationed at the Hennepin County Government Center to support law enforcement, officials said.
Here is what you need to know about the trial:
Where is the trial and how long will it last?
The trial will be held at the Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is expected to last two to four weeks. Court TV will provide a “gavel-to-gavel” livestream of the trial from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day.
What are Chauvin’s charges and how much prison time does he face?
Chauvin, 45, is charged with third-degree murder, second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Minnesota’s penal law allows a person to be charged with second-degree murder if they intentionally kill someone without premeditation or unintentionally cause the death of someone else while committing certain other offenses, such as assault, records show.
A person is guilty of third-degree murder if they unintentionally kill someone “by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life,” the statute reads.
Second-degree murder carries a maximum prison sentence of 40 years under Minnesota law while third-degree murder carries a maximum lock up of 25 years. Second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 10 years or a fine of $20,000.
Why was Chauvin charged for Floyd’s murder?
On May 25, 2020, the Minneapolis Police Department was called to Cup Foods on Chicago Avenue alleging Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill, according to Chauvin’s criminal complaint.
When cops arrived, they found Floyd in the driver’s seat of a car and began speaking with him. One of the responding cops, Officer Lane, pulled out his gun and pointed it at Floyd’s window while directing him to show his hands.
Lane then pulled Floyd out of the car and handcuffed him as he “actively resisted being handcuffed,” the complaint states.
Around 8:14 p.m., the two officers attempted to walk Floyd to the squad car when he “stiffened up, fell to the ground and told officers he was claustrophobic.” That’s when Chauvin and another officer arrived in a separate squad car.
Chauvin went to the passenger side and pulled Floyd out of the car as he repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, the complaint states. While Floyd was face down on the ground and handcuffed, Chauvin placed his left knee on Floyd’s neck while he continued to say “I can’t breathe” and cried for his mother, the complaint says.
For nearly nine minutes, Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, even as he stopped moving and failed to show a pulse. The other responding officers asked if they should move Floyd but Chauvin said to keep him in the same position, records show.
“The defendant had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total. Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was non-responsive. Police are trained that this type of restraint with a subject in a prone position is inherently dangerous. Defendant is in custody,” the complaint, dated four days after the incident, reads.
The bulk of the incident was captured on video, which is expected to be a central piece of evidence in the prosecution’s case against Chauvin.
Who are the jurors?
A total of 15 jurors have been selected for the case, including 12 panelists and two alternates who will actually hear the evidence and a 15th who was chosen in case one of the jurors will be unable to serve by the time opening statements kick off on Monday. That person will be dismissed in the morning as long as no one drops out of the jury before the trial starts.
The jury includes six men and nine women. Two are multiracial, four are black and nine are white. The jury selection was a difficult process as so many people had seen, read and heard about Floyd’s death. Many told a judge they were unable to maintain an impartial view of the events and were dismissed.
Juror No. 2 is a white man in his 20s who works as a chemist. He is the only juror who claims to have never seen video of Floyd’s arrest.
Juror No. 9 is a woman in her 20s who is multiracial. During questioning, she said her uncle is a police officer and Chauvin may have acted in the way he’s accused of because Floyd was potentially resisting arrest or other civilians were in danger. She said she was “super excited” to get her jury notice.
Juror No. 19 is a white man who works as an auditor, is in his 30s and has a friend who works for the MPD. He said he supports Black Lives Matter as a general concept and has an unfavorable opinion of Blue Lives Matter.
Juror No. 27 is a black man in his 30s who works in computer security and holds a somewhat negative view of Chauvin. He said he hopes to learn more about the events that led up to Floyd’s arrest.
Juror No. 44 is a white woman in her 50s who works in the nonprofit sector. She strongly believes the criminal justice system is biased against minorities.
Juror No. 52 is a black man who works in banking and is in his 30s. He claimed to have neutral opinions on Chauvin and Floyd.
Juror No. 55 is a white woman who works in healthcare and is in her 50s. During questioning, she said “all lives matter to me. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they are.”
Juror No. 79 is a black man, native to the area, who is in his 40s and works in management. He said he trusts police but feels jurors should evaluate an officer’s actions.
Juror No. 85 is a woman in her 40s who is multiracial and works as a consultant. She claims to have a neutral view of Floyd and has pretty strong faith in the police.
Juror No. 89 is a white woman who works as a registered nurse and is in her 50s. She somewhat disagrees that it isn’t right to second-guess police officers and their decisions.
Juror No. 91 is a black woman in her 60s who used to work in marketing before she retired. She holds very favorable views of the Black Lives Matter movement and also has a relative who is a cop.
Juror No. 92 is a white woman who works in insurance and is in her 40s. She said she knows people who’ve struggled with addiction and doesn’t agree that someone who uses drugs or doesn’t cooperate with police should be treated poorly.
Juror No. 96 is an unemployed white woman in her 50s who claims to have never seen cops treat minorities differently or with more force than white people.
Juror No. 118 is a white woman who works as a social worker and is in her 20s. She believes police reform is necessary but she also is “always looking at every side of things.”
Juror No. 131 is a white man who works as an accountant and is in his 20s. Initially, he had a somewhat negative opinion of Chauvin and views Black Lives Matter somewhat favorably.
Who are the attorneys on both sides of the case?
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the state’s first black elected AG, is overseeing the case but Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank will lead the prosecution. Frank is in charge of the state’s criminal division.
The prosecution will be flanked by a series of top, outside attorneys who agreed to work on the case for free. They include former U.S. acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, former federal prosecutor Steven Schleicher, and Jerry Blackwell, a founder of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers. Aside from Katyal, the prosecution has received approval for at least six other out-of-state attorneys who will serve as co-counsels, court records show.
Chauvin’s defense is funded through the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association’s legal defense fund, which has appointed Eric Nelson to represent him. While Chauvin was fired the day after allegedly killing Floyd, he earned the right to representation after years of being a member of his local union, the Minneapolis Police Federation. The MPPOA is a police advocacy group made up of local police unions across the state.
Nelson is an attorney with the Halberg Criminal Defense firm and his experience includes defending people accused of homicides, sex offenses, drug offenses, assaults and “hundreds of DWI and alcohol-related traffic offenses,” his bio on the firm’s website states.
One of Nelson’s most prominent cases involved Amy Senser, the wife of former Minnesota Vikings tight end Joe Senser, who was found guilty in a hit-and-run death in 2011. Nelson has successfully acquitted at least two people charged with murder.
What’s expected to happen in court?
A central piece of the trial will undoubtedly be the bystander video that captured Floyd’s arrest but the defense is expected to rely heavily on forensic and medical evidence that could show drugs and pre-existing health conditions contributed to his death.
“For the prosecution the key part of the case is eight minutes and 46 seconds of videotape, and they will build everything else around it,” Jack Rice, a veteran criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor who has closely followed the case, told the Wall Street Journal.
“The reason it is so critical is that the video is objective, that will be their argument. You can’t deny the time, place, the behavior.”
However, for the defense, Rice said “it’s not the 8 minutes 46 seconds that matters.”
“It’s about what happened before the camera was turned on.”
At the crux of the issue are two conflicting medical examiners reports — one conducted by Hennepin County officials and the other commissioned by outside experts, who were hired by Floyd’s family. While both agreed the death was a homicide, meaning the actions of someone else contributed to Floyd’s death, the exact causes differed.
Hennepin County’s chief medical examiner Andrew Baker said Floyd died from “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression.” But the ME noted potentially fatal levels of fentanyl, evidence of methamphetamine use and pre-existing heart conditions including hypertension and heart disease contributed to the cause of death, according to court records detailing Baker’s interview with federal investigators.
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office disputes that is what the ME told authorities, the Wall Street Journal reported.
However, an independent autopsy conducted by former Big Apple ME Michael Baden and Dr. Allecia Wilson ruled Floyd’s death was caused by “asphyxia due to neck and back compression.”
Wilson said there was no significant evidence of heart disease and Baden said Floyd was in “good health” before he died.
Legal experts told The Journal Nelson will portray Chauvin as a seasoned and decorated cop who was doing a dangerous job and using a technique he was trained to do. The experts said the attorney’s opening statements will blame Floyd’s death on his health conditions and alleged drug history.
However, civil rights lawyer Brian Dunn, who has represented more than 200 people who’ve accused police of misconduct, told the outlet the video evidence will likely trump expert testimony and complicated medical evidence.
“When you’re trying to tell people not to believe their eyes, it’s an uphill battle,” he said.
With Post Wires