MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — Jurors in the trial of a suburban Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Black motorist Daunte Wright spent a third day deliberating Wednesday, after a question to the judge suggested some are concerned they may not be able to reach agreement.
The jury asked Judge Regina Chu on Tuesday afternoon how to proceed if they can't reach a verdict. The question came after roughly 12 hours of deliberations that began Monday, and the judge told jurors to continue their work.
The jury didn't ask any other questions Wednesday. They resumed work shortly before 8:30 a.m., and ended at 6 p.m. -- bringing the total amount of time spent in the deliberation room to 24 hours. They will return Thursday morning.
Former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter, who is white, is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. If convicted of the most serious charge, Potter, 49, would face a sentence of about seven years under state guidelines, though prosecutors have said they will seek more.
Potter said she meant to use her Taser on Wright rather than her gun, and jurors had a second question for Chu: Could Potter's handgun, given to them along with her Taser as exhibits, be freed from the zip ties holding it in an evidence box so they could handle it?
Prosecutors had presented evidence on the differences between the gun and the Taser, including their weight, feel, size and color. Prosecutor Erin Eldridge said during her closing argument that the jurors would be able to hold them, "to get a feel for the two, and to get a sense of all those differences that you heard about in court, and see for yourselves how different they really are."
Chu said that they could handle the gun, over an objection from Potter attorney Paul Engh, who argued that it should remain in the box "for safety purposes."
Rachel Moran, a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, cautioned against making too much of the jurors' question about being unable to reach a verdict. She noted that the jurors didn't say they were at an impasse.
The judge is "going to let them keep deliberating if they don't express concern or distress about how it's going," Moran said. She also said their interest in holding the gun indicates they're still willing to consider some facts.
"There has to be what's called the 'magic words,' which is the jury would have to say further deliberations will not help," said legal analyst Joe Tamburino. "So if the jury sends a note to the judge saying 'we're hung, we can't decide,' the judge will bring them back in the courtroom and will ask them, 'would further deliberations help?' And if they say 'no, there's simply no way we're going to arrive at a verdict,' the judge will declare a hung jury and a mistrial."
In the case of a mistrial, the state would have the option to re-try the case, which likely wouldn't get started until at least next summer.
The judge has ordered that the jury be sequestered during deliberations — meaning they remain under the court's supervision in an undisclosed hotel and cannot return home until they have reached a verdict or the judge has determined they can't reach one.
During closing arguments, prosecutors accused Potter of a "blunder of epic proportions" in Wright's death in an April 11 traffic stop — but said a mistake was no defense.
Potter's attorneys countered that Wright, who was attempting to get away from officers as they sought to handcuff him for an outstanding warrant on a weapons charge, "caused the whole incident."
The mostly white jury got the case after about a week and a half of testimony about an arrest that went awry, setting off angry protests in Brooklyn Center just as nearby Minneapolis was on edge over Derek Chauvin's trial in George Floyd's death. Potter resigned two days after Wright's death.
Potter testified Friday that she "didn't want to hurt anybody" and that she was "sorry it happened."
Chu told jurors that intent is not part of the charges and that the state doesn't have to prove Potter tried to kill Wright.
The judge said for first-degree manslaughter, prosecutors must prove that Potter caused Wright's death while committing the crime of reckless handling of a firearm. This means they must prove that she committed a conscious or intentional act while handling or using a firearm that creates a substantial or unjustifiable risk that she was aware of and disregarded, and that she endangered safety.
For second-degree manslaughter, prosecutors must prove she acted with culpable negligence, meaning she consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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