Minneapolis – Attorneys at the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death moved closer to seating a jury Thursday, choosing a 10th juror just hours after clashing over how much the panel should hear of Floyd’s own actions.
The latest juror, a white woman in her 50s, is a registered nurse. She was added after reassuring lawyers and the judge that she could refrain from using her own medical knowledge to add to evidence presented in court at Derek Chauvin’s trial.
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Earlier, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell argued that a forensic psychiatrist should be allowed to testify how Floyd’s behavior as officers attempted to put him into the squad car was consistent with any reasonable person’s anxiety or panic during a traumatic event. Officers who confronted Floyd after he allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store pointed a gun at him, and he struggled and told them he had claustrophobia as they tried to force him into the car.
Prosecutors want to show that Floyd might have been unable to comply with the officers’ orders, and wasn’t actually resisting arrest – something Blackwell said he was certain that Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson intended to do.
“The defense is doing a full-on trial of George Floyd, who is not on trial, but that is what they’re doing,” said Blackwell, adding that the defense also planned to make arguments about Floyd’s drug use.
Nelson said that if the prosecution gets to present that evidence to the jury, the defense should be able to tell the jury about Floyd’s drug arrest a year earlier, when he did not resist getting put into a squad car.
Nelson also has said there are striking similarities between the two encounters that could show a pattern of behavior: Both times, as officers drew their guns and struggled with Floyd, he called out for his mother, claimed he had been shot before and cried, and put what appeared to be pills in his mouth. Drugs were found during the first arrest, and an autopsy showed Floyd had drugs in his system when he died.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said he’ll rule on Vinson’s testimony on Friday, when he plans to issue a broader ruling on the admissibility of Floyd’s 2019 arrest and on defense motions for delaying or moving the trial.
Progress in jury selection comes after the judge on Wednesday dismissed two of seven jurors who were seated before news of the city’s $27 million settlement broke last week. Cahill re-questioned them to see if the massive settlement affected their ability to be fair and impartial.
Of the 10 seated jurors, five are men and five are women. According to the court, five are white, two are multiracial and three are Black, and their ages range from 20s to 50s.
Fourteen jurors, including two alternates, are needed.
The juror selected on Thursday underwent extensive questioning from attorneys and from Cahill about her experience as a nurse, whether she has ever resuscitated anyone and how she would view medical evidence in the case.
The woman said she would draw upon her knowledge to evaluate medical testimony and recognizes the amount of time a person can be without air before going unconscious. At one point, Cahill told her: “You can’t be an expert witness in the jury room.”
She said she could refrain from relying on her own knowledge.
Three potential jurors questioned early Thursday were excused, including one who said she had been constantly exposed to news of Floyd’s death and that the announcement of the city’s settlement pushed her to favor the state’s position.
Prosecutors used one of their peremptory strikes to dismiss another, a mother of five adult children who said she respects police officers, was bothered by prior allegations against Floyd and believes the media exaggerates discrimination.
The third potential juror was dismissed because she is acquainted with someone who will be a central witness in the state’s case and will talk about sensitive material.
Cahill has set March 29 for opening statements if the jury is complete by then.
Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in the May 25 death of Floyd, a Black man who was declared dead after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes. Floyd’s death, captured on bystander video, set off weeks of sometimes-violent protests across the country and led to a national reckoning on racial justice.
Three other former officers face an August trial in Floyd’s death on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.
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