Jury selection in the murder case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd began on Tuesday despite prosecutors asking the Minnesota Court of Appeals to halt the high-profile trial.
After spending the day questioning a dozen potential jurors, lawyers in the case seated the first three members of the panel. They are a chemist for an environmental testing company who is engaged to be married to a physical therapist; a woman who said she was "super excited" to be a juror and is related to a northern Minnesota police officer; and a financial auditor who said he's formed a "somewhat negative" impression of Chauvin due primarily to the death of Floyd but that he could set his opinions aside to render a verdict based solely on the evidence presented in court.
The selection process ended for the day at about 4:30 p.m. local time after the third juror was seated.
While being questioned under oath by Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, the first juror said he has never seen the viral video of Chauvin kneeling on the back of Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes.
The first pool of potential jurors were brought into the courtroom just after 9 a.m. local time and prosecutors and attorneys for Chauvin each introduced themselves.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill said he intends to keep the jury selection process going until the appellate court tells him otherwise.
Chauvin's lawyers filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court after the appellate court issued a ruling on Friday instructing Cahill to reinstate a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin after finding that the judge erred in October when he dismissed the count.
The state Supreme Court issued an order Tuesday morning acknowledging it had received the petition from Chauvin's lawyer and giving prosecutors until 5 p.m. local time on Tuesday to file a response.
The state did so, just before the deadline, writing, "Every single source of authority confirms that the Court of Appeals reached the right result. There is no reason for this Court to intervene." However, the state also said if the Supreme Court does not deny it, it should set a start for oral arguments "at the earliest available moment."
Prosecutors from the office of state Attorney General Keith Ellison also filed a motion on Monday asking the appellate court to stay the trial, arguing that Cahill does not have total jurisdiction over the case while a decision over whether to include the third-degree murder charge remains pending.
In opening remarks to the jury pool Tuesday, Cahill said Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, but added "charges might be added or subtracted" as the case goes on.
The attorneys are looking to select 14 jurors for the case, including two alternates. Initially, they said they were looking for 12 jurors and four alternates.
Before jury selection began, lawyers on both sides of the case dismissed 16 of the first 50 prospective jurors for cause, mostly due to the answers they submitted on a lengthy questionnaire.
Nine of the 12 potential jurors questioned on Tuesday were dismissed. One of the potential jurors let go was a married mother of three and an immigrant from Mexico who works as a nursing assistant. Nelson exercised a peremptory challenge to dismiss the juror due to a language barrier. Nelson had also grilled the woman on her answer to why she would want to serve on the Chauvin jury, in which she wrote, "I would like to give my opinion on the unjust death of Mr. Floyd."
Another woman dismissed said she had formed an opinion on the guilt or innocence of Chauvin and did not believe it would change regardless of what evidence she heard during the trial. Also dismissed was a business manager, who on his questionnaire answered that he "strongly agreed" that police officers should not be second guessed on making split-second decisions. A 19-year-old trade-school student, who said he's father once racially profiled in a traffic stop by Minneapolis police, was dismissed after he said just being called for jury duty is "making me anxious."
Nelson used another preemptory challenge to dismiss a Hispanic man who recently moved to Minneapolis from Southern California and had experience practicing martial arts.
Prosecutor Steve Schleicher challenged Nelson's move, telling Cahill the defense had made a peremptory challenge "on its second person of color in a jury pool."
"When asked to provide a race-neutral explanation for the exercise of the peremptory, the defense ... articulated just sort of generalized concerns that this particular perspective juror expressed strong opinions and articulated a belief that he was simply trying to get on the jury," Schleicher said.
Pushing back, Nelson responded that the juror said he practiced Brazilian jiu-jitsu and had formed a strong opinion that Chauvin had performed an "illegal tactic" on Floyd and that Chauvin and the other officers involved in the arrest had "taken the law into their own hands."
"Yes, this juror indicated that he was willing to reexamine those opinions, but only upon essentially providing him evidence and proof contrary to his opinions is the way I understood him to say that," Nelson said. "His statements that he would be willing to reexamine the evidence struck me as insincere."
Cahill sided with Nelson, saying that during voir dire questioning he realized the defense would probably strike the prospective juror.
"That reason was not because of his race but because when he was talking about his jiu-jitsu experience and his experience with the hold is that he obviously might stick to his own opinions about being essentially an expert in the jury room," Cahill said. "But, more importantly, he stated in a way that he was going to stick to his opinion until somebody else told him otherwise or provided proof otherwise, which essentially is shifting the burden onto the defense and not coming in with the presumption of innocence."