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Trial of Derek Chauvin, charged in George Floyd's death, begins with jury selection

Jury selection begins in George Floyd murder trial
Jury selection begins in George Floyd murder trial 02:06

Five jurors have been selected so far in the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd. Jury selection began on Tuesday morning at the Hennepin County Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, a day later than scheduled, and continued Wednesday before court recessed for the day.

Judge Peter Cahill had been forging ahead despite looming appeals over the prosecution's bid to reinstate a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin. Wednesday, however, the Minnesota Supreme Court denied Chauvin's petition for review, punting the issue back to Cahill. Cahill was expected to address possibly reinstating the charge Thursday morning before resuming jury selection.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listens during his murder trial at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd.  Court TV, via AP, Pool

Floyd's May 2020 killing drew outrage and a worldwide reckoning on police reform and racial justice. Chauvin, the police officer who was seen in a disturbing video kneeling on the neck of the unarmed Black man for more than nine minutes, is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other three officers involved in the fatal arrest are charged with aiding and abetting, and will be tried jointly in August.   

Speaking to potential jurors, Cahill warned they shouldn't talk to anyone involved in the case, and should refrain from searching for information about it online or posting about it on social media. He explained the concept of "reasonable doubt," the legal standard prosecutors must meet to prove their case against Chauvin, who sat in the courtroom wearing a gray suit. Cahill also instructed potential jurors to keep their masks on and use social distancing practices.

The jurors chosen Wednesday included a Black man who works as an information technology specialist and a White man who said he would be willing to re-schedule his May 1 wedding, if need be, to participate in the trial.

The lawyers are aiming to find jurors who say they can form an impartial opinion despite the massive amount of pre-trial publicity the case has received. Tuesday, Cahill and defense attorney Eric Nelson questioned the first potential juror about what media coverage she had seen about the case. The juror, a mother of three, said she had seen the video, but said she would be willing to review all evidence. 

When asked about her initial opinion of the video, the potential juror described her reaction to seeing Chauvin restraining Floyd: "That's not fair, because we are humans, you know?"

She was later excused from jury service.

The second potential juror questioned, a White man who works as a chemist, was selected for the jury after questioning and instructed to report back for opening statements. The man said he had limited interactions with police, but did not have a personal negative viewpoint of the Minneapolis police department. He said he did believe the criminal justice system as a whole was biased against people of color.

The man said he had not seen the video of Floyd's death, but had seen a still image of Chauvin restraining Floyd. He said he has visited the intersection where Floyd was killed with his fiancée.

"It happened in my city, it was a transformative event for that area, and me and my fiancée are thinking about moving near that area, so we wanted to visit," he said.

One potential juror, a White woman, was excused from service after she said she had "strong opinions" about the case and couldn't promise that she could be impartial.

"I hope for a specific outcome and I don't know that that would change," the woman said.

George Floyd's cousin Shareeduh Tate, sitting in the lone seat reserved for a member of Floyd's family Tuesday, reacted audibly and nodded in agreement.

Some jurors expressed concern for their safety, including another potential juror who said he would be worried about his name becoming public after the trial.

"I felt, well, if our names are publicized, could we become potential targets for certain organizations? That makes me feel uneasy," he said.

The potential juror was dismissed over work conflicts.

Tuesday afternoon, a woman who said her uncle is a police officer in northern Minnesota was chosen to sit on the jury. The woman said she is open-minded and is considered to be a mediator by her friends. 

The woman said she had an initial negative impression of Chauvin, but that she is willing to hear all elements of the case and be an impartial juror.

George Floyd's cousin reacts to Derek Chauvin trial 06:43

Speaking with CBSN after the proceedings, Tate said she felt the difficult questions were necessary to ensure a fair and impartial jury.

"I think the thing foremost in my mind was that we were a part of a process that was going to get us to the place we've all been seeking and that's justice," Tate said.

Jury selection is scheduled to last three weeks, and barring any delay, opening statements are set for March 29. Trial proceedings will span another two to four weeks, after which the jury will launch into deliberations for an indeterminate amount of time. The process is expected to be complete by mid- to late-April. If Chauvin is convicted, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled for a later date. Chauvin, who has pleaded not guilty, will have the right to appeal.

The charges

In order to convict Chauvin of second-degree murder, prosecutors would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin caused Floyd's death while committing or attempting to commit a related felony, in this case third-degree assault. 

In order to convict Chauvin of second-degree manslaughter, prosecutors would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin caused Floyd's death by "culpable negligence," meaning he created unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or serious harm. Since police officers are authorized to use force, prosecutors must prove that the force Chauvin used against Floyd was unlawful. Under either charge, prosecutors do not need to prove that Chauvin intended to cause Floyd's death. 

In Minnesota, second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum prison term of 10 years. 

The charge that prosecutors are seeking to add, third-degree murder, is punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Third-degree murder would require a lower standard of proof than second-degree. To win a conviction, prosecutors would have to show only that Floyd's death was caused by an act that was obviously dangerous, though not necessarily a felony. Re-instating the count could increase the prosecution's odds of getting a murder conviction.

Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder, but Cahill dropped the count in October, ruling that Minnesota law only permits for the charge against someone who causes a death in an act that endangers multiple people, not in an act directed at one person. Last week, a Minnesota appeals court handed a win to prosecutors and ordered Cahill to again consider re-instating the charge. The appeals panel said Cahill is bound to abide by a precedent they set when they upheld a third-degree murder conviction against Mohamed Noor, the former Minneapolis officer who fatally shot an Australian woman who called 911 in 2017. 

After the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday denied Chauvin's challenge of that ruling, the appeals court decision will stand — meaning the decision is back in Cahill's hands. Cahill could reinstate the charge, but he has left the door open for Chauvin to challenge it on other grounds.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement the state Supreme Court was correct to deny Chauvin's petition for review.

"The Court of Appeals ruled correctly; therefore, there was no need for the Supreme Court to intervene," the statement said. "We believe the charge of 3rd-degree murder is fair and appropriate. We look forward to putting it before the jury, along with charges of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter."  

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