Chauvin Trial Day 5: Minneapolis Settles Civil Suit for $27m, One More Juror Selected
The biggest news of today was the City of Minneapolis settling the civil suit with George Floyd’s family for $27 million dollars. Inside the courtroom, however, jury selection in the trial of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin continued with one additional juror seated of 5 reviewed. Unlike past days, Judge Peter Cahill and attorneys for the State and defense spent a significant amount of time speaking with a single person, Juror 44, off the record, with visitors to the court room (including the press pool) out of the room. While she was eventually seated on the jury, four other potential jurors were dismissed, with one peremptory challenge each for the prosecution and defense, and two jurors dismissed for cause.
The day began with a relatively quick questioning of Juror 42, a female recent college graduate who appeared to be white and in her early 20s. She was struck via peremptory challenge from defense attorney Eric Nelson, and Juror 44 was called. Juror 44’s voir dire questioning took more time than any other potential juror so far, and was complicated by extensive time testifying with the courtroom closed.
During a brief recess, Judge Cahill informed everyone in the courtroom that proceedings would be going off camera and off the record for Juror 44. After the recess, Juror 44, a white woman in her late 40s or early 50s, was seated with the courtroom open long enough for introductions and to inform Judge Cahill she had brought her own attorney. After this, the courtroom was then closed to visitors for an extended period of time while Judge Cahill, Nelson, and state attorney Steve Schleicher proceeded with questioning her.
This is not the first time portions of voir dire have occurred with visitors out of the room and the sound off on the live video feed. The court provides for this action to guarantee potential jurors in this trial as much privacy and anonymity as possible, so they can discuss potential issues freely without giving up their identity to the public. However, this is the first time that a significant portion of the juror’s time at the stand has been closed to the press and public. Even stranger, it is unheard of that a potential juror would bring their own attorney for jury selection, and no explanation was given for this action.
As such, it’s impossible to evaluate what occurred during this period of time except what was referenced once the court re-opened and Juror 44’s selection process became public again. She described herself as being a “c-level” executive in health care who had prior professional dealings with Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is leading the prosecution team. During her public testimony, she answered questions very confidently and described herself as having “empathy” which led her to think that “no one could have intended what happened” when Chauvin killed George Floyd. When Schleicher pointed out that she would literally have to put that belief aside since some of the charges against Chauvin involved his intent, she responded that she would weigh all the evidence presented in court and in essence, follow the rules. She also stated that she had empathy for George Floyd but that she was “against drugs,” which is notable as Chauvin’s defense will most likely rely on the argument that Floyd’s alleged drug use, not Chauvin’s actions, caused his death. Both the defense and prosecution chose to pass her, and she was seated after over 3 hours of questioning, including public testimony, private testimony, and a lunch recess.
In reporting the trial so far, the word “moderate” or “centrist” has been used to describe the jurors who have been seated over the past few days. This is not intended in a political sense, but to define jurors who were chosen as not so firm in their opinions about George Floyd’s killing or related issues that they couldn’t evaluate the evidence presented without bias. Juror 44, through her answers that were available to the press and public, repeatedly stressed her empathy and ability to be impartial, but was much more emphatic and confident in her opinions than any of the seated jurors before her. This is a significant, and in some ways concerning difference, but it's hard to know if things she shared during the closed door portion of her voir dire painted a clearer picture.
The three remaining jurors for day 4 of selection included Juror 46, a white man with a military background who came across as pro-police and whose wife had participated in the Minnetonka Police Citizen’s Academy, which promises a “behind-the-scenes” look at the Minnetonka Police Department. He was struck by a peremptory challenge from Schleicher. The other two jurors, 46 and 49, were both people of color and struck for cause. While neither seemed to want to be part of the jury, what’s striking is that both cited economic issues as part of the reason why serving would be a hardship. With the trial itself expected to last at least four weeks, it’s difficult to imagine how someone with limited income could go nearly a month without working. It demands the question: how does one get a jury that truly represents the people of Hennepin County if a whole chunk of Hennepin County’s people would go broke if they served on a jury?
Check back for a full review of the first week of the Chauvin trial later.