Trial launches for Derek Chauvin in murder of George Floyd

Credit: CBSNews
Credit: CBSNews

▶ Watch Video: Jury selection delayed in Chauvin trial over murder charge appeal

UPDATE: Jury selection in the case was paused on Monday. Read our latest story for details.

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was seen in a disturbing video kneeling on the neck of an unarmed Black man for more than nine minutes, is scheduled to go on trial this week. The killing of George Floyd drew outrage and a worldwide reckoning on police reform and racial justice. Here’s what to expect from the courtroom.

Trial timeline

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday morning at the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis and last for three weeks. Opening statements are expected on March 29. Trial proceedings will span another two to four weeks, after which the jury will launch into deliberations for an indeterminate amount of time. The process is expected to be complete by mid- to late-April. If Chauvin is convicted, a sentencing hearing will be scheduled for a later date. Chauvin will have the right to appeal.

Key players

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill will preside over the trial. The office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is handling the prosecution against Chauvin, and Chauvin’s defense lawyer is Eric Nelson. The case will be heard by a panel of 12 jurors along with up to four alternate jurors. The identities of the jurors will be kept secret, and all will be asked whether they can render an impartial verdict despite the massive amount of publicity the case has received.

The charges

Chauvin, who has been released on $1 million bond, is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty. The three other former officers involved in the fatal May 25, 2020 arrest — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — are charged with aiding and abetting and will face trial together on Aug. 23. All four officers have been fired.

In order to convict Chauvin of second-degree murder, prosecutors will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death while committing or attempting to commit a related felony, in this case third-degree assault. Prosecutors do not need to prove that Chauvin intended to cause Floyd’s death. 

In order to convict Chauvin of second-degree manslaughter, prosecutors will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death by “culpable negligence,” meaning he created unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or serious harm. Since police officers are authorized to use force, prosecutors must prove that the force Chauvin used against Floyd was unlawful.

In Minnesota, second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum prison term of 10 years.

Latest developments

Appearing before Cahill on Monday morning, Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank argued that jury selection should be stayed until recent appeals over whether to add a charge against Chauvin are resolved. Cahill indicated he wanted to move forward with jury selection with the appeals pending, and prospective jurors were expected to arrive at the courthouse Monday morning.

On Friday, a Minnesota appeals court handed a win to prosecutors in their bid to re-instate the additional charge against Chauvin — third-degree murder. Chauvin was initially charged with the count, which carries a penalty of up to 25 years. But Cahill dropped the count in October, ruling that Minnesota law only permits for the charge against someone who causes a death in an act that endangers multiple people, not in an act directed at one person. 

Prosecutors appealed Cahill’s decision, saying the ruling was flawed, and Minnesota Court of Appeals on Friday agreed and ordered Cahill to again weigh re-instating the charge. The appeals panel said Cahill is bound to abide by a precedent they set when they upheld a third-degree murder conviction against Mohamed Noor, the former Minneapolis officer who fatally shot an Australian woman who called 911 in 2017. 

Nelson said Monday morning he would ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the appeals court’s decision. Cahill said he does not have jurisdiction to address issues surrounding the third-degree murder charge ahead of the possible review by the state’s highest court, but he ruled he has jurisdiction to proceed on other aspects of the case.

Security concerns

Law enforcement officials are on high alert ahead of the trial and have been planning safety precautions for months. They say a cross-departmental plan dubbed “Operation Safety Net” aims to protect lawful, non-violent protests while preventing “large-scale violent civil disturbances,” property damage, assault, looting and property damage.

Last month, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz authorized the National Guard to assist local law enforcement agencies. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports city and county officials will spend at least $1 million to erect fences and other barricades across the city, including fortifications for the city’s five police precincts, along with City Hall and the Public Service Building, which face the downtown courthouse where Chauvin will be tried.

COVID-19 precautions

Cahill is limiting attendees in the courtroom due to COVID-19 concerns and is allowing for the proceedings to be televised, a rarity in the state. The courtroom will have space for a television technician to operate the broadcast, the judge, four lawyers from the prosecution and four from the defense, jurors and alternate jurors, two members of the media, one member of Derek Chauvin’s family and one member of George Floyd’s family. The judge has said different family members may rotate using the seat, but will not be allowed in the courtroom at the same time.

Lawyers Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said the ruling to allow only one family member in court disappointed Floyd’s family members, “many of whom intended to be in the courtroom to witness this trial.”

“The family is looking forward to the start of the trial as a critical milestone on the path to justice and a step toward closure in this dark chapter of their lives,” the statement said. 

How to watch

Trial proceedings will be televised beginning with opening statements on March 29. You can watch the trial live on CBSN Minnesota.

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