MINNEAPOLIS — Jury selection in Derek Chauvin’s trial has restarted despite a request by prosecutors to delay while an appeals court considers reinstating his third-degree murder charge.
The process picked back up on March 9 after prosecutors asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals a day earlier to pause the trial for the former policeman, who is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter in the May 2020 death of George Floyd.
During an arrest, Chauvin pinned Floyd’s neck down by his knee while the unarmed black man screamed that he was in distress before losing consciousness. Three other officers, who have since been fired, assisted in restraining Floyd, who was being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd’s death sparked a summer of nationwide unrest and calls for social justice and police department reforms.
Prosecutors worry they may lose the chance to try Chauvin on third-degree murder charges if the trial continues in the Hennepin County District Court while the appeal is ongoing. If the third-degree murder charge is reinstated, they could have multiple paths to a conviction based on precedent set in the case of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who was sentenced to 12.5 years in jail in 2017 for the fatal shooting of an unarmed woman from Australia.
Lead prosecutor Assistant Attorney General Frank argued that Chauvin’s trial should be suspended because defense attorney Eric Nelson has petitioned the Minneapolis Supreme Court to review how the Noor decision might apply to Chauvin’s case. District Court Judge Peter Cahill, however, commenced with jury selection after receiving no word from the Court of Appeals barring him to move forward.
“Unless the Court of Appeals tells me otherwise, we’re going to keep moving,” Cahill said.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison praised the appellate court’s March 5 ruling that a lower court must reconsider the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin.
“We believe the charge of 3rd-degree (sic) murder, in addition to manslaughter and felony murder, reflects the gravity of the allegations against Mr. Chauvin. Adding this charge is an important step forward in the path toward justice,” Ellison said in a statement.
Community activists echoed a similar sentiment, including Nekima Levy Armstrong, a local lawyer and well-known civil rights activist who has followed the case.
“Organizers and community members have been taking to the streets and continue to demand justice,” she said. “We will be watching the trial of Derrick Chauvin closely. We want to see a conviction based upon his role in the murder of George Floyd, as well as convictions of the other three officers who aided and abetted him last year.”
The jurisdiction of the district court is at issue because convictions outside of jurisdiction could be thrown out. But the state Supreme Court’s involvement could possibly delay the trial proceedings up to 30 days.
Nelson said he was willing to proceed while the issue was unresolved. As jury selection resumed, some potential candidates were dismissed while a few official selections were made.
In court, Cahill stated that Chauvin’s firing could not be used as proof of his guilt because it was an employer opinion, based on viewing the footage of his behavior in the line of duty, that he displayed inappropriate conduct, not a finding of fact in Floyd’s murder.
Former officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao will go on trial together on Aug. 23 for charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in the death the 46-year-old Floyd. Hundreds of protestors are back out on the streets of downtown Minneapolis to demand justice for Floyd as the trial proceedings continue.
(Edited by Carlin Becker and Matthew B. Hall)
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