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Jury Selection to Begin in Floyd Trial 03/08 06:10


   MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The fate of a former Minneapolis police officer who 
pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck as the Black man said he couldn't 
breathe will be decided by 12 Hennepin County residents picked after extensive 
grilling about their views on police and the justice system.

   Jury selection begins Monday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who is charged 
with second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death. Picking a jury is 
expected to take at least three weeks, as prosecutors and defense attorneys try 
to weed out people who may be biased against them.

   "You don't want jurors who are completely blank slates, because that would 
mean they're not in tune at all with the world," Susan Gaertner, a former 
prosecutor, said. "But what you want is jurors who can set aside opinions that 
have formed prior to walking into the courtroom and give both sides a fair 

   Floyd was declared dead May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee 
against Floyd's neck for about nine minutes, holding his position even after 
Floyd went limp as he was handcuffed and lying on his stomach. Floyd's death 
sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, and led to a 
nationwide reckoning on race.

   Chauvin and three other officers were fired; the others face an August trial 
on aiding and abetting charges.

   Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, argued that pretrial publicity of the case 
and the subsequent violent unrest in Minneapolis would make it impossible to 
find an impartial jury in Hennepin County. But Judge Peter Cahill said last 
year that moving the trial probably wouldn't cure the problem of a potentially 
tainted jury pool because "no corner of the State of Minnesota" has been 
shielded from pretrial publicity.

   The potential jurors --- who must be at least 18, U.S. citizens and 
residents of Hennepin County --- were sent questionnaires to determine how much 
they have heard about the case and whether they've formed any opinions. Besides 
biographical and demographic information, jurors were asked about prior 
contacts with police, whether they have protested against police brutality and 
whether they believe the justice system is fair.

   Some of the questions get specific, such as how often a potential juror has 
watched the bystander video of Floyd's arrest, or whether they carried a sign 
at a protest and what that sign said.

   Mike Brandt, a local defense attorney, said prosecutors will likely seek out 
jurors who have favorable opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement or might 
have more outrage over Floyd's death, while Chauvin's attorneys would likely 
favor jurors who support the police.

   Unlike typical jury selection proceedings, this jury pool will be questioned 
one by one instead of in a group. The judge, defense attorney and prosecutors 
will all get to ask questions. The defense can object to up to 15 potential 
jurors without giving a reason; prosecutors can block up to nine with no reason 
given. The other side can object to these so-called peremptory challenges if 
they believe the sole reason for disqualifying a juror is race or gender.

   Both sides can also argue to dismiss an unlimited number of jurors "for 
cause," meaning they must provide a reason why they believe that juror 
shouldn't serve. Those situations can get into some detailed machinations, 
Brandt said, and it's up to the judge to decide whether a juror stays or goes.

   "Sometimes there is some tortured questioning," Brandt said.

   He said that even if a juror says they have had a negative interaction with 
the police, or a negative opinion about Black Lives Matter, the key will be 
trying to find out whether they can put those past experiences or opinions 
aside and be fair.

   "We all walk into these with biases. The question is, can you put those 
biases aside and be fair in this case," he said.

   Jury selection will end after 14 people are picked -- 12 jurors who will 
deliberate the case and two alternates who won't be part of deliberations 
unless needed. The jurors will be escorted to the courthouse daily and 
sequestered during deliberations. Their names will be kept confidential until 
further order of the court.

   The number of seats in the courtroom has been limited to maintain social 
distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and seats for jurors have been spaced 
out. Like others in the courtroom, jurors will be required to wear masks.

   The earliest opening statements will begin is March 29.

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