MINNEAPOLIS — The murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, will start on time and remain in Minneapolis.
Judge Peter A. Cahill of Hennepin County District Court on Friday ruled against motions by Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer for a continuance and change of venue, setting the stage for opening statements to begin March 29.
Eric J. Nelson, Mr. Chauvin’s attorney, argued that the huge pretrial publicity of the case, including the news of the settlement last week between the city of Minneapolis and the Floyd family for $27 million, had prejudiced the jury pool.
Yet even as some jurors have said the payout influenced their opinion about Mr. Chauvin’s guilt and that they could not be fair and impartial, other jurors have said they could set aside what they have learned about the case in the news media and be fair.
Judge Cahill said that there is no place in Minnesota that has not been saturated with media coverage of the case, and that a delay would not reduce the intense public scrutiny of the proceedings.
The judge said the basis of the defense’s motion for a delay is “the hope that as time passes, people forget some of the pretrial publicity.”
He continued, “Unfortunately, I think the pretrial publicity in this case will continue no matter how long we continue it. Perhaps some of it with time might be forgotten by people. As far as change of venue, I do not think that would give the defendant any kind of a fair trial beyond what we are doing here today. I don’t think there’s any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity on this case.”
The timing of the civil settlement has angered Judge Cahill — who had to dismiss two jurors who had already been seated, because they said the settlement changed their view on the case — but nevertheless jury selection has moved quickly. On Thursday, three more jurors were added to the panel, bringing to the total to 12. The court now only needs to add two alternates to complete the jury, and more people were summoned on Friday to answer questions.
The 12-person jury is a diverse panel that includes seven women and five men. There are four Black jurors, six white people and two people who identify as multiracial.
In a separate ruling on Friday, Judge Cahill reversed himself and said the defense could bring up at trial details of an arrest of Mr. Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2019, almost one year before his death.
The 2019 incident, the defense has argued, is remarkably similar to the circumstances before Mr. Floyd died after being pressed to the concrete for more than nine minutes under Mr. Chauvin’s knee, as he gasped for breath. In both cases, Mr. Floyd is accused of ingesting drugs when confronted by the police and acting erratically. The centerpiece of Mr. Chauvin’s defense strategy is arguing that Mr. Floyd died of a drug overdose, not from Mr. Chauvin’s use-of-force.
Prosecutors have said the admission of the 2019 incident is a back door way for the defense to put Mr. Floyd’s character on trial, and they point to an important difference between the two episodes: in 2019, officers sought medical treatment for Mr. Floyd and he survived.
The judge overseeing the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd, has allowed prosecutors to add an additional charge of third-degree murder against Mr. Chauvin, who is already facing a more serious count of second-degree murder.
The decision on Thursday most likely ended a sequence of legal wrangling and cleared the way for the trial to move forward. Jury selection is well underway, with six of 12 jurors already seated, and opening arguments are scheduled to begin on March 29.
The jurors will now have an additional murder charge on which they could convict, even if they decide the evidence does not support second-degree murder.
Third-degree murder was the first charge Mr. Chauvin faced last year when he was fired by the Minneapolis Police Department and arrested after Mr. Floyd’s death on May 25, and prosecutors had sought to reinstate it.
Within days of Mr. Chauvin’s arrest, he agreed to plead guilty to third-degree murder, The New York Times reported last month, but William P. Barr, then the U.S. attorney general, stepped in to reject the agreement, which had also included an assurance that Mr. Chauvin would not face federal civil rights charges.
Judge Peter A. Cahill, who is overseeing the trial, later dismissed that charge, but he upheld the more severe charge of second-degree murder. If convicted of second-degree murder, Mr. Chauvin would likely face about 11 to 15 years in prison, though the maximum penalty is up to 40 years. The maximum penalty for the added third-degree murder charge is 25 years in prison. Mr. Chauvin also faces a lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals last week ordered Mr. Cahill to reconsider whether to add the third-degree murder charge, which has historically been understood to apply to defendants who commit an act that endangers multiple people. But the appeals court broadened the scope of the law in a decision this year and said the charge could be used in cases where only one person was in danger — as it was in the conviction of a Minneapolis police officer, Mohamed Noor, for a fatal shooting.
Judge Cahill said in February that he was not bound by that new interpretation because it could still be reviewed by a higher court, but the appeals court disagreed with his analysis. Judge Cahill granted the prosecutors’ motion to add the charge after brief arguments on Thursday morning from Eric J. Nelson, who is Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, and Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general who is helping prosecutors in the case.
Two lawyers for the Floyd family welcomed the decision in a statement.
“The trial is very painful and the family needs closure,” the lawyers, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, said. “We’re pleased that all judicial avenues are being explored and that the trial will move forward.”
And Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general whose office is prosecuting the case, said the charge “reflects the gravity of the allegations.”
Mr. Chauvin, 44, has been free on bail since October and has been present in court since the trial moved ahead this week, wearing a suit and mask and taking notes on a yellow legal pad as his lawyer and prosecutors interview prospective jurors. So far, the six selected jurors include three white men, one Black man, one Hispanic man and a biracial woman, Judge Cahill said in court on Thursday.
Derek Chauvin, 44, had been a police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department for more than 19 years before George Floyd’s death. During that time, he was the subject of at least 22 complaints and internal investigations. One of the episodes led to two letters of reprimand — his only formal discipline.
Mr. Chauvin worked in one of Minneapolis’s busiest precincts on its most difficult shift, from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., long after many officers his age had moved to different positions. He earned several awards, including two medals of valor after separate confrontations in which he shot at suspects, one of whom died.
Mr. Chauvin, who is white, was filmed on May 25 of last year holding his knee to the neck of George Floyd, who is Black, for more than nine minutes as Mr. Floyd pleaded with him and repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.”
Mr. Chauvin was fired the next day, along with three other officers who had arrived at Cup Foods, a convenience store, after a teenage clerk called 911 to report that Mr. Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill. In October, Mr. Chauvin was freed on bail while awaiting trial, having posted $100,000 through a bail bond agency. He was initially required to remain in Minnesota, but later was allowed to live in any of the four bordering states (Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota) because of concerns for his safety.
In the weeks after Mr. Chauvin was fired, protesters gathered at his house in the St. Paul suburbs, his wife of 10 years filed for divorce and a picture of his time on the police force emerged. Interviews with his acquaintances depicted him as an awkward and rigid workaholic who had a tendency to overreact.
Examples of Mr. Chauvin’s police work will most likely be presented at his trial. Prosecutors are expected to tell jurors about his arrest of a Black woman who has said that Mr. Chauvin kept his knee on her body while she was handcuffed and facedown on the ground and pleading, “Don’t kill me.” In another interaction considered relevant, Mr. Chauvin saved a suicidal man’s life by placing him on his side and riding with him to a hospital.
The Police Department commended Mr. Chauvin for the latter action, but prosecutors have argued that it shows he knew it was important to avoid creating breathing problems for people who were restrained.
Glimpses of how Derek Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, plans to defend his client, a former Minneapolis police officer who is accused of killing George Floyd, have emerged in numerous court filings over the last several months.
In the early days of the case, Mr. Chauvin sought to blame the two inexperienced officers, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who first arrived to the scene. Mr. Nelson argued that Mr. Floyd was already in the grips of a drug overdose by the time Mr. Lane and Mr. Kueng arrived at Cup Foods, the convenience store where Mr. Floyd allegedly passed a counterfeit $20 bill.
“If Kueng and Lane had chosen to de-escalate instead of struggle, Mr. Floyd might have survived,” Mr. Nelson wrote. “If Kueng and Lane had recognized the apparent signs of an opioid overdose and rendered aid, such as administering naloxone, Mr. Floyd might have survived.”
Mr. Lane and Mr. Kueng, along with a third officer, Tou Thao, a veteran who was Mr. Chauvin’s partner, were also fired and have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. They face a combined trial in August, but if Mr. Chauvin is acquitted, it is likely the other three officers would be as well.
At trial, Mr. Nelson’s defense is likely to be based on the arguments that Mr. Floyd died from drug use and an underlying health condition, not Mr. Chauvin’s knee restraint. Mr. Nelson’s cross-examination of the Hennepin County medical examiner, Dr. Andrew Baker, is likely to be a key moment when Mr. Nelson will try to raise reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors.
Dr. Baker has ruled Mr. Floyd’s death a homicide, with contributing factors being the restraint by Mr. Chauvin, drugs in Mr. Floyd’s system and his underlying health conditions. Dr. Baker said the amount of fentanyl that showed up on Mr. Floyd’s toxicology report would have allowed him to rule that Mr. Floyd died of an overdose if he were found alone at home. He has also said he cannot say whether Mr. Floyd would have died of other causes if it were not for Mr. Chauvin’s knee on his neck.
For Mr. Nelson, who will call his own medical expert to testify, this will be the area he will probe to try to raise reasonable doubt.
The state, however, needs to prove only that Mr. Chauvin’s actions “contributed to the death,” Judge Peter A. Cahill has written, not that they were the “sole cause of death.”
Another component of Mr. Chauvin’s defense will be that the force used to subdue Mr. Floyd was lawful and within the Police Department’s policy — an argument that will be challenged by Chief Medaria Arradondo, one of the prosecution’s most important witnesses.
The trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd will be unusual for many reasons: It will be livestreamed from Minneapolis, attendance will be severely limited because of the coronavirus, and the public’s interest in the case may make this one of the highest-profile trials in recent memory.
Prosecutors and Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer will start narrowing down a pool of people to find 12 jurors, a process that began Tuesday and is expected to last about three weeks. Jury selection is the only part of the trial that will not be streamed live, though audio will be available.
Once the jury is chosen, the trial can be watched on nytimes.com, via a livestream provided by Court TV. Witness testimony and lawyers’ presentation of evidence should last several weeks before the jury begins to deliberate over the verdict.
Among the people allowed in the courtroom, on the 18th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, are the judge, jurors, witnesses, court staff, lawyers and Mr. Chauvin, and only a handful of spectators. The judge, Peter A. Cahill, wrote in an order on March 1 that only one member of Mr. Floyd’s family and one member of Mr. Chauvin’s family would be allowed in the room at any time. There will be two seats reserved for reporters, and various journalists, including from The New York Times, will rotate throughout the trial.
The lawyers, spectators, jurors and witnesses will be required to wear masks when they are not speaking. Spectators are prohibited from having any visible images, logos, letters or numbers on their masks or clothing, according to Judge Cahill’s order.
Among the many witnesses who are expected to testify, the most prominent will most likely be Darnella Frazier, the teenager who took the video of Mr. Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck; Chief Medaria Arradondo of the Minneapolis Police Department, who fired Mr. Chauvin, condemning his actions and calling Mr. Floyd’s death a “murder”; and Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County medical examiner who attributed Mr. Floyd’s death to “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”
Late last year, prospective jurors in Minneapolis and surrounding communities received an extensive questionnaire about their knowledge of the case of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who is accused of murdering George Floyd. It was a first step to gauge public sentiment about the case and weed out prospective jurors who have strong enough opinions to disqualify them from hearing the case.
Among the questions were whether they had seen the famous bystander video of Mr. Floyd struggling on the ground as officers tried to arrest him; whether they participated in any protests that erupted after Mr. Floyd’s death; and what newspapers they read and what podcasts they listen to.
The task of assembling a suitably impartial jury was expected to be a challenge in a case that has generated enormous publicity in Minneapolis and around the world.
Jury selection was expected to last at least three weeks — much longer than in a typical criminal case — though five jurors had been seated by Wednesday. The prospective jurors are, one at a time, taking a seat in the courtroom to answer questions from the judge, prosecutors and Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, that are designed to reveal their opinions and biases related to the police, the Black Lives Matter movement and the circumstances of Mr. Floyd’s death.
Simply knowing a great deal about the killing of Mr. Floyd is not enough to disqualify a juror, but the lawyers and the judge are looking for signs that jurors can set aside what they know and consider only the evidence they hear in court to determine whether Mr. Chauvin broke the law.
Each side has a certain number of peremptory challenges — the ability to strike a potential juror without cause, although the reason must not be based solely on race.
Diversity will be an important issue. Juries in Hennepin County tend to be whiter then the general population, and the prosecution is likely to do whatever it can to seat as many Black jurors as possible.
There were concerns that it would prove too difficult to find 12 suitably impartial jurors — plus two alternates — in Minneapolis to try the case there. If that were to happen, the trial could be moved to another jurisdiction, although the judge has indicated he is determined to keep the case in the Twin Cities.
Mr. Nelson had argued that the trial should be moved because of pretrial publicity. The judge ruled out that option for now but warned he could change his mind, writing, “The Court will reconsider as the case develops if circumstances warrant.”
MINNEAPOLIS — Two people were removed on Wednesday from the jury in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, after the jurors said they could no longer be impartial because they had seen news reports about a multi-million-dollar civil settlement between the City of Minneapolis and the Floyd family.
Jury selection for the trial is still in progress. Of the nine jurors seated so far, seven were selected before the $27 million settlement was announced on Friday.
Judge Peter A. Cahill held one-on-one Zoom meetings Wednesday morning with each of the seven, asking if they had heard the news and, if so, whether it would affect their ability to be fair in the criminal trial against Mr. Chauvin.
Two jurors — a white man in his 30s, and a Hispanic man in his 20s — said they had seen the news and that they no longer believed they could give Mr. Chauvin the presumption of innocence.
“That sticker price obviously shocked me and swayed me a little bit, yes,” said the white man, identified only as Juror No. 20. The other man, Juror No. 36, said, “I think it would be hard to be impartial.”
With the dismissals, there are now seven jurors remaining, with more potential jurors scheduled to answer questions from lawyers on Wednesday. Ultimately, the court is seeking to select 14 people for the panel — 12 regulars and two alternates.
The process got off to a fast start but has since slowed significantly, upended by concerns that the civil settlement has prejudiced potential jurors. On Tuesday, for instance, no jurors were selected all day, the first time that has happened since the process began a week ago.
Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, has continued to try to persuade Judge Cahill to delay the trial, and has asked to be allowed to strike more potential jurors who may have heard about the settlement, which was announced in the middle of the day on Friday at the Minneapolis Convention Center, while court was in session nearby. Mr. Nelson is also seeking to have the trial moved out of Minneapolis.
Judge Cahill said he was considering Mr. Nelson’s motions for a delay and for a change of venue, and would rule on them sometime this week.
For his part, Judge Cahill has criticized the City of Minneapolis for announcing the settlement just as the criminal trial was getting underway, calling the timing “unfortunate.”
Mr. Nelson has pointed to three specific instances of recent pretrial publicity that he believes have unfairly tainted the jury pool and that justify moving the case to another jurisdiction: the civil settlement between the city and Mr. Floyd’s family; a New York Times article reporting that Mr. Chauvin had agreed last year to plead guilty to third-degree murder as part of a deal that ultimately fell apart; and another Times article reporting that the Department of Justice was expanding a federal investigation into Mr. Chauvin by subpoenaing witnesses to testify in front of a new grand jury.