MINNEAPOLIS – Lawyers were expected to present their cases on Monday in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was charged with the death of George Floyd last spring – an incident that sparked protests around the world against police brutality and sparked a racist reckoning in the United States
Before opening the declarations, Hundreds of people gathered for rallies and vigils Sunday to honor Floyd’s life and raise awareness of the trial. On Monday morning, members of Floyd’s family and lawyers tied their arms and kneeled in silence outside the courthouse.
Floyd, a black man, died in police custody on May 25, 2020After the white chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. Chauvin is charged with second degree murder, third degree murder, and second degree manslaughter. If convicted on the most serious charges, he faces a prison sentence of 10½ to 15 years under the Guidelines for Convicting First-Time Offenders.
Hennepin County’s judge Peter Cahill said the process could take up to four weeks
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- Before opening the statements, prosecutors argued that the defense should not characterize Floyd’s state of mind, and the defense agreed that it was forbidden.
- The judge stated that he would be very strict in prohibiting arguments or conclusions from either side during the opening speech. The attorneys can say what appeared to have “happened” during Floyd’s arrest, but not what “should have happened”.
- In the last three weeks, 15 jurors have been selected; 12 will consider, two will serve as deputies and one was released on Monday. The panel consists of nine white and six colored jurors, including three black men, one black woman, and two mixed race women.
- Due to COVID-19, a limited number of people are allowed in the courtroom, including one member each from the Floyd and Chauvin families.
George Floyd’s cousins, brothers and nephews, as well as lawyers representing the family and Rev. Al Sharpton, gathered outside the courthouse Monday morning and spoke to the public before kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, that long Chauvin was seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck. Later court documents, however, stipulate a time of more than 9 minutes.
“Today begins a landmark process that will be a referendum on how far America has come in its pursuit of equality and justice for all. It will be prima facie evidence,” said civil rights attorney Ben Crump. “The whole world is watching.”
A communications helicopter rattled overhead as Crump quoted the Declaration of Independence and Floyd’s supporters demanded that he be given the same justice as a white man.
“This murder case isn’t difficult when you watch George Floyd’s torture video. And we have to call it what it is: it was torture,” Crump said. “We are not asking for anything extraordinary. We are calling for equal justice under the law.”
George Floyd’s brother Rodney warned Americans watching the trial that defense attorneys were likely to cast doubts about Floyd’s character. “Please don’t let the lies you are going to throw at him entertain you. The truth is … he was murdered on the street,” said Rodney Floyd.
On Sunday the Rev. Billy G. Russell held an evening vigil at his church with members of Floyd’s family, Sharpton and Crump. Speaking on Sunday, Sharpton pointed out that many cases never resulted in criminal charges against the officers involved, citing previous incidents such as the Rodney King beating and Eric Garner’s murder. He said Monday is an opportunity for the country to hold the police accountable.
“The criminal justice system is on trial,” Sharpton said. “Chauvin is in the courtroom, but America is on trial.”
Visual and audio recordings are not normally allowed in Minnesota courtrooms without the approval of a judge. Cahill confirmed his decision to broadcast the trial live in December due to the immense global interest in the case and the limited space in the courthouse.
The judge and defense and law enforcement attorneys selected a jury and decided what evidence the jury could hear.
The selection of the jury began in early March with an initial pool of more than 300 potential jurors were asked to fill out a 13-page questionnaire prior to the process about their prior knowledge of the case, their media presence and whether they could put aside existing opinions as impartial jurors. The judge and attorneys interviewed the jury for 11 days and eventually selected 15. Chauvin was in the courtroom every day, taking notes on a notepad.
The process had some delays after Minneapolis announced a historic $ 27 million lawsuit against Floyd’s family. The defense tried to delay or postpone the process, arguing that coverage of the announcement spoiled the jury. Judge Peter Cahill at the Hennepin District Court rejected these requests, but he dismissed two already selected jurors and apologized to three potential jurors when they said they were affected by the settlement.
The judge also decided the jury will hear some evidence related to a previous arrest from Floyd. During an arrest in May 2019, police responded to information about illegal narcotic activity and found significant amounts of drugs on and near Floyd, according to court records. Cahill said the arrest was “remarkably similar” to the fatal encounter in 2020, and jurors might hear evidence from the 2019 arrest pertaining only to Floyd’s medical condition – not his emotional behavior – as it relates refer to the cause of death in the incident in 2020.
The jurors come from a wide variety of areas. Some are very familiar with the case; others have not followed the months of developments.
The panel includes a chemist, a nurse who looks after patients with ventilators, a pensioner and a social worker. Seven are in their twenties or thirties, three in their forties, four in their fifties, and one woman in their sixties.
Given the circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death – a black man who dies under the knee of a white cop – the racist makeup of the jury is a key concern. According to the court, nine of the jury identified themselves as white, two as multiracial and four as black.
On May 25, Chauvin was featured on video kneeling by Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes when Floyd yelled he couldn’t breathe. Floyd, who was accused of using a fake $ 20 bill, was handcuffed and pinned to the floor by three officers during the arrest. Chauvin kept his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck minutes after he stopped responding when bystanders repeatedly asked officers to look for a pulse.
Chauvin and three other officers were fired the day after Floyd’s death and charged the following week. The three other officers involved – Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – are charged with assisting and facilitating second-degree murder and manslaughter. They are to be tried together in August.
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