Chauvin Attorney Claims News of $27m Settlement Will Prejudice Jurors, as Trial Enters Second Week
Eric Nelson, the attorney for disgraced former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, requested a continuance and change of venue today as the 6th day of Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020 began, citing the news of the City of Minneapolis $27m civil settlement with Floyd’s family as prejudicial for both potential jurors for the rest of selection and the jurors already seated.
Nelson criticized members of the Minneapolis City Council and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, saying that as a civil rights lawyer, Frey “should have known better.” In his motion, Nelson explicitly mentioned council member Jeremiah Ellison—son of Attorney General and lead attorney for the State Keith Ellison—though Nelson added that he was “not accusing Mr. Ellison of anything.” This prompted a loud off the cuff response from Attorney General Ellison when he entered the courtroom after the first recess but before court was officially back in session, asking, “Is there anything else someone would like to not accuse me of?”
In Nelson’s motions, he argued that the news of the settlement would make a fair trial with an impartial jury impossible. “Ultimately the goal of this system is to provide a fair trial. And this is not fair,” Nelson said.
Judge Peter Cahill did not immediately rule on Nelson’s requests, but called the situation “concerning.” He expressed the wish that city officials “stop talking about this case so much,” but added, “I don’t find any evil intent that they are trying to tamper with this criminal case.”
Granting either of Nelson’s two major requests would significantly alter the course of the trial. Jury selection at the end of today is over halfway done, with opening arguments from both sides scheduled to begin on March 29th. A continuance would significantly delay that start, allowing Nelson additional time for additional motions and procedural maneuvers to shift things in Chauvin’s favor. A change of venue could move the trial to a completely different court, although it is hard to imagine anywhere the trial could be moved where the settlement wouldn’t have been reported. There’s certainly not a Minnesota court outside the Twin Cities with a similar demographic makeup, which would definitely also skew the potential jury pool in Chauvin’s favor.
Attorney for the State Steve Schleicher requested that Cahill delay a decision on Nelson’s motions until the actual impact of the news of the settlement could be assessed as jurors were questioned under oath during voir dire, saying, “there are some things that the state of Minnesota and this prosecution team can control, and there are some things the state cannot and does not control….We cannot and do not control the Minneapolis City Council, and we certainly cannot and do not control the news cycle.”
Nelson’s final request due to the settlement was for more peremptory challenges, which arguably represents more of an attempt to get something to his advantage for free, since Cahill would most likely dismiss any jurors influenced by the news of the settlement for cause without Nelson needing to use any of his allotted strikes. Nelson used one more of his peremptory challenges today to dismiss a college student of color who said that he believed he could remain impartial, although many of his friends had strong opinions about the trial.
In addition to the juror Nelson struck, five others were struck for cause, including one man who expressed concern that showing his ID to law enforcement to enter the Hennepin County Government Center meant that his identity was compromised. At the end of the day, two jurors were seated: juror #52, a Black man in his 30s who works as a banker, coaches youth sports, and has a relative who is a correctional officer; and Juror #55, a white woman who appeared to be in her 50s, who expressed concern about how close protests came to her neighborhood last summer, and did not know what “Blue Lives Matter” meant, apparently assuming that it was just another way of saying “All Lives Matter.”