The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for George Floyd’s death was delayed until at least Tuesday morning, as the judge violated a last-minute order from a higher court to reconsider adding another murder charge.
The trial was scheduled to begin on Monday with the screening of jurors to weigh charges of murder and homicide in a case that was considered a referendum on police violence against black Americans. Chauvin appeared in court wearing a navy blue suit and tie, a white shirt and a black face mask, and took notes in a yellow legal pad on the table in front of him.
Judge Peter Cahill of Hennepin County District Court set aside three weeks for jury selection alone, given the difficulty of finding impartial Minneapolitans in a case that has cramped a nation and where a picture of the victim – a selfie of Floyd’s faint smile – has become a international icon of racial justice.
But it was delayed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which ordered Cahill to reconsider prosecutors’ request to reinstate a third charge, third-degree murder, over defendant’s objections. Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s lead lawyer, told the court Monday morning that Chauvin would soon ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to overturn Friday’s decision, a process that could take weeks.
Prosecutors from the Minnesota attorney general’s office urged the court to postpone the selection of the jury until the matter was resolved.
“We are not doing this to disrupt, to slow it down, but it is a very important issue,” Matthew Frank, an associate lawyer, told the court. Prosecutors feared choosing a jury when the number of charges remained unresolved could make it easier for Chauvin to appeal a verdict later, Frank said.
Cahill declined. Prosecutors then said they would ask the Board of Appeal to intervene to delay the trial. Cahill suspended the selection of the jury until at least Tuesday.
Chauvin, 44, is charged with second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison and murder.
Chauvin was released from prison on a $ 1 million bond last October and will be tried in a courtroom in the Hennepin County Government Center, a tower in central Minneapolis that is now ringed with fences and concrete barricades for fear of disturbing protesters.
Small groups of protesters gathered at the barricades in an adjoining park, some arriving with bouquets of flowers and signs with optimistic slogans: “A change is coming.” Some volunteers set up tables and handed out donated coffee and donuts.
The courtroom has been adapted to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus, and Judge Peter Cahill has severely limited the presence inside: the Chauvin and Floyd families have been allocated a single seat inside the courtroom. Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd’s sister and founder of the George Floyd Memorial Foundation, went in for the first day, according to a pool reporter in the courtroom.
Most participating reporters have to watch a video stream in a building across the street.
Chauvin’s lawyers, who were fired from the police the day after Floyd’s death, have claimed that he correctly followed his training in helping colleagues arrest Floyd on suspicion of using a counterfeit $ 20 bill in the Cup Foods grocery store. A handcuffed Floyd can be seen in videos struggling to be placed in a police vehicle complaining that he has claustrophobia.
The doctor examined that Floyd’s death was a murder that was partly caused by the police’s restraint. But the autopsy report also noted that Floyd had recently taken the opioid fentanyl, and Chauvin’s lawyers claim that an overdose was the leading cause of death.