Jury selection begins in George Floyd trial 

The death that sparked a worldwide movement took center stage in a heavily fortified Minneapolis courtroom on Tuesday as jury selection began in Derek Chauvin’s trial in the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, then a Minneapolis Police officer, placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes while Floyd pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” His final moments were captured on video, and his death led to widespread protests against police brutality and racism under the banner Black Lives Matter as well as incidents of unrest and looting.

Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter charges. In addition, a charge of third-degree murder that was dismissed in October is now in limbo after an appeals court ruled the trial judge should reconsider a motion to reinstate it, which could lead to a delay in the start of the trial.

Jury selection in the trial began Tuesday at the Hennepin County Government Center and is expected to last about three weeks. Opening statements are expected to start no earlier than March 29, followed by testimony over the next two to four weeks.

As of midday Tuesday, one prospective juror has been selected to serve during the trial.

In a case with so much media attention, it may be impossible to find a jury that hasn’t heard about Floyd’s death. But the goal is not to find ignorant people; it’s to find jurors who can be impartial and are open to hearing the evidence and the law.

“No matter what a potential juror has seen or heard, can they set that aside and base their decision on evidence in court and the law the judge gives them?” said Mary Moriarty, the former chief Hennepin County public defender.

In December, prospective jurors were sent a 16-page questionnaire asking for their thoughts on Black Lives Matter protests, their views on policing and their personal interactions with police.

Starting Tuesday, some prospective jurors who completed the questionnaire will be questioned one-by-one in court in a process known as voir dire. The juror’s name, address and other information will be kept anonymous.

The judge will first ask questions of the prospective juror, followed by the defense and then the prosecution. If the defense or prosecution believes the person cannot be impartial in the case, they can ask the court to dismiss the person for cause. Each side has unlimited challenges for cause.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys can also move to dismiss prospective jurors without cause using what’s called a peremptory challenge. Chauvin’s team has 15 of these challenges and the prosecution has nine, according to the court.

These peremptory challenges can themselves be challenged, though, if they are based on race, ethnicity or sex — known as a Batson challenge.

The process continues until the court decides on up to 16 people, split into 12 jurors and up to four alternates.

George Floyd, 46, was born in North Carolina and raised in Houston and moved to Minnesota as an adult for a fresh start, working as security at a restaurant.

On May 25, 2020, police were called about a man who had used a $20 counterfeit bill at a Minneapolis store. Officers were directed to a parked car with Floyd in the driver’s seat, and they handcuffed him and moved to put him into the back of a police car, according to the amended complaint.

Two other officers, including Chauvin, then responded to the scene and struggled to get Floyd into the vehicle, the complaint states. Chauvin allegedly pulled Floyd to the ground in a prone position and placed his knee on Floyd’s neck and head. His knee remained there even as Floyd pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” said “I’m about to die” and ultimately stopped breathing, the complaint says. He was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s autopsy listed the cause of death as heart failure “complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression,” and ruled it a homicide. The medical examiner also noted arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease; fentanyl intoxication; and recent methamphetamine use as “other significant conditions.”

Medical examiners hired by Floyd’s family also ruled it a homicide but said Floyd died of “asphyxiation from sustained pressure” during the arrest.

Derek Chauvin, 44, had been an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department since 2001 until he was fired in the wake of Floyd’s death. He was the subject of at least 18 prior complaints, two of which were “closed with discipline,” according to a department internal affairs public summary.

A motion to dismiss the charges filed last August previewed his possible defense. In that filing, his attorney argued that Chauvin had no intent to harm Floyd while restraining him, that he was acting within police policy, and that Floyd’s cause of death was the result of a drug overdose and other existing health issues.

Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, all former Minneapolis Police officers, were also on scene with Chauvin and are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. They have pleaded not guilty.

Due to limits on courtroom space because of the pandemic, their joint trial was moved to this summer. They will not testify in Chauvin’s trial, but their names, statements and actions will be heavily featured.

Eric Nelson is Chauvin’s defense attorney and will represent him at trial. He is part of the Halberg Criminal Defense practice and has worked exclusively in criminal defense since being admitted to the bar, according to his online bio.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office says the three main presenting prosecution attorneys are Jerry Blackwell, Matthew Frank, and Steve Schleicher.

Peter Cahill is the Hennepin County judge overseeing the case. He was first appointed to the bench in 2007 and has been reelected to the position three times since, most recently last November.



UK says it has not blocked vaccine exports

Britain has not blocked the export of COVID-19 vaccines, a UK government spokesman said on Tuesday, Reuters reported yesterday (9).

“The UK government has not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine. Any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false,” the spokesman said.

“This pandemic is a global challenge and international collaboration on vaccine development continues to be an integral part of our response.”

Earlier European Council President Charles Michel rejected charges of “vaccine nationalism” levelled against the EU, and said that while Britain and the United States have outright bans on exports of COVID-19 shots, the EU had not stopped exporting.