Judge in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin granted prosecutors’ request to add third-degree murder charge Thursday, giving the jury more options as it considers Chauvin’s culpability in the death of George Floyd.
Jury selection continued Thursday following debate on the new charge. Potential jurors were being questioned about their knowledge of the case and the protests over Floyd’s death and asked whether they can set aside any existing opinions to serve impartially.
Thus far, six jurors have been chosen: five men and a woman. A few seemed eager; others fearful, some expressing safety concerns about serving on such a high-profile and divisive case, especially if their identity became public. Many had established clear opinions on the events that led to Chauvin’s arrest, but some didn’t follow the specifics on what led to Floyd’s death and the ensuing protest riots.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill and lawyers over the week have asked potential jurors about their previous knowledge of the case, whether they’ve seen it on the news and how they responded to a 13-page questionnaire.
Lawyers started Wednesday discussing several potential issues ahead of the trial, from descriptions of Floyd’s character to the potential for prosecutors to paint officers with the Minneapolis Police Department as being part of a conspiracy to back a fellow officer.
The court seated its sixth juror Thursday morning. The man, a self-described fan of true crime shows, noted in his pre-trial questionnaire that he “somewhat disagreed” the criminal justice system is biased against minorities.
Among the other five: a man who immigrated from Africa to the U.S., a chemist, a woman who said she was “super excited” to serve, a man who said he had a fairly negative view of Blue Lives Matter and a man who is likely being forced to cancel his wedding to serve on the jury.
They were each vetted about whether they’d seen the footage of Chauvin restraining Floyd, their perception of police officers and various advocate groups, such as Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter.
Judge Peter Cahill opened Thursday’s proceedings by hearing arguments on reinstating a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, ultimately granting prosecutors’ request to reinstate it. Legal observers say the new charge gives the jury more options as it considers Chauvin’s culpability in Floyd’s death.
Cahill had earlier rejected the charge as not warranted by the circumstances of Floyd’s death, but an appellate court ruling in an unrelated case established new grounds for it.
And on Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Chauvin that aimed to prevent the additional charge. The unusual, expedited decision by the state’s high court enables jury selection to continue with just a hiccup in the proceedings rather than a delay of weeks or months while it considered an appeal.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is leading the prosecution, said in a statement the addition of the charge “reflects the gravity of the allegations against Mr. Chauvin.”
“We look forward to presenting all three charges to the jury,” he said.
Cahill also noted that the reinstatement of the third-degree murder charge does not apply to the three other officers charged in Floyd’s death. They are scheduled for trial this summer, and possible third-degree charges in that case would be addressed at a later time, the judge said.