Derek Chauvin’s murder trial will go on, and won’t move elsewhere in the state, a judge decided Friday after a week of courtroom consternation over the city of Minneapolis’s announcement one week ago of a $27 million civil settlement with George Floyd’s family.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill denied Chauvin’s attorney’s motion to delay and move the trial in light of the much-publicized city settlement. Many prospective jurors said they heard about the settlement — and most remembered the exact dollar amount — during questioning this week.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson said the announcement tainted the jury pool. He questioned the timing of the city announcement, just days after the beginning of jury selection for Chauvin’s murder and manslaughter trial.
Cahill said moving the trial is typically done to ensure a fair trial, and delaying it probably wouldn’t help either.
“Unfortunately I think the pre-trial publicity will continue no matter how long we continue,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any place in Minnesota that has not been subjected to an extreme amount of publicity in this case.”
After eight days of jury selection, 13 jurors had been seated by noon Friday, a much faster pace than anticipated.
Cahill said that at first he thought Nelson was overstating the impact of the city announcement, but he was “shocked” when two seated jurors said the news made them unable to be fair and impartial. They were dismissed from the jury.
The initial jury pool was 326 people, and the attorneys had gone through 95 prospects by Friday morning. The judge allowed both the prosecution and defense to strike more jurors to help seat an impartial jury and limit the impact of the civil settlement.
Cahill also announced his decision Friday to allow medical evidence from Floyd’s May 2019 Minneapolis arrest to be introduced during the trial, saying the circumstances were similar in both arrests and relevant because the cause of death is a highly contested issue.
The county medical examiner listed the cause of death as “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint and neck compression” and noted Floyd had heart disease and fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system. Chauvin’s attorney has argued the drug toxicity and Floyd’s heart problem caused his death. The prosecutors argue he died of positional asphyxia due to Chauvin’s restraint.
In both arrests, a police officer pulled a gun while approaching Floyd, who was in a vehicle. They both holstered their guns at some point, and there’s evidence that Floyd concealed drugs by ingesting them, Cahill said.
He will allow the 2019 body cam video from an officer and drugs found in the vehicle to be introduced as evidence, and he will allow a paramedic to testify about his blood pressure. Cahill said Floyd’s systolic blood pressure in the previous incident was over 200 and diastolic blood pressure was over 160, which he said is more than just a history of hypertension and put Floyd in a hypertensive emergency in 2019.
The paramedic told Floyd he had to go to the hospital or risk a heart attack.
The defense will not be allowed to delve into Floyd’s emotional state — whether he was anxious, claustrophobic or having a panic attack — in the 2019 arrest.
“The whole point is we have medical evidence of what happens when Mr. Floyd is faced with the same situation,” Cahill said.
The judge said he will not allow forensic psychiatrist Sarah Vinson to testify for the prosecution about Floyd’s state of mind during Floyd’s arrest. Cahill said he might reconsider his decision, but it could open the door to all the evidence regarding Floyd’s emotional behavior.
Jury selection continued after his rulings, with a white woman in her 50s seated by noon Friday, bringing the total to 13 jurors, two shy of the 15 the judge now plans to impanel (three will be alternates)*. Two other prospective jurors were dismissed because they said they could not remain impartial.
*Updated to reflect the judge’s decision to add one more alternate.