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George Floyd Trial: Judge Postpones Jury Selection As Murder-Charge Question Looms

A pool of potential jurors were in the court building, waiting to start the selection process. But they’re being sent home for the day.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill sent potential jurors in Derek Chauvin’s trial home on Monday. Here, a painting of Floyd is seen outside the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial is taking place.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill postponed the start of Derek Chauvin’s trial in the killing of George Floyd on Monday, after an appeals court ordered him to reconsider his original decision to dismiss a third-degree murder charge against the former Minneapolis police officer. The decision came as a pool of potential jurors waited to start the selection process.

The delay comes as Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, said he is finalizing an appeal asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the question of whether Cahill should consider reinstating the murder charge.

“We’re prepared to try this case. It is not our intent to cause delay,” Nelson said. As he spoke in court, Chauvin took notes at a desk nearby, wearing a blue coat and tie and a black face mask.

Cahill had initially wanted to move ahead with the jury selection process as scheduled, despite lingering uncertainty over what charges Chauvin will face. But with prosecutors saying they would file an appeal of their own to halt the selection process until the charges are set, the judge opted to send the jury pool home for the day.

“Realistically, we’re not going to get to any jury selection” on Monday, Cahill said. “We won’t have an answer [on the prosecution’s appeal] until at least tomorrow. So unless any of the parties object, I’m going to kick our jurors loose and start everything tomorrow with jury selection.”

On Friday, an appeals court ordered Cahill to reconsider his original decision to dismiss a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin. Cahill issued Monday’s ruling after he, state prosecutors and Chauvin’s defense team discussed whether the appeals court’s ruling should bring a delay.

Prosecutors warned the judge that moving ahead with jury selection now could create problems in the trial that could lead to an appeal after it ends. They also noted the importance of seating a jury as close as possible to the start of the trial. But Cahill noted that in homicide cases, there is precedent for adding or omitting a charge after a jury is selected.

With the selection process on hold, Cahill said the court would spend the day hearing the legal teams’ preliminary motions, which will set the scope of evidence and testimony for the trial.

The proceedings took place in a Hennepin County courthouse that is heavily guard and barricaded against potential disruptions in Minneapolis, where Floyd’s death last year triggered massive protests. Several hundred people gathered at the court building Monday, in the latest demonstration against police violence and mistreatment of Black people.

Even before the issue of reinstating a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin arose, the trial was expected to last through much of April. Jury selection is expected to last several weeks, as the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys work to select 12 jurors and up to four alternates. Opening arguments aren’t expected in the case until around March 30.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is leading the state’s case against Chauvin. The former police officer’s defense team is led by Nelson.

Floyd died in police custody last Memorial Day – a tragic incident that was captured on video, inflaming nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality that quickly spread around the world. Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes. During that time, Floyd was pinned to the asphalt.

Chauvin was arrested four days after Floyd’s death. He and the other three officers who were at the scene — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas K. Lane — were fired one day after Floyd was killed.

Thao, Kueng and Lane face charges of aiding and abetting murder.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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