The murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd is gearing up to be quite a protracted one. In other words—the process of winning criminal accountability for the heinous killing of 46-year-old Floyd, whose neck Chauvin knelt on for nearly nine minutes last May, is unlikely to be smooth or simple, but did we expect it to be?
Following Friday’s announcement that the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to award Floyd’s family a record $27 million to settle their wrongful death civil lawsuit, Chauvin’s defense lawyer Eric Nelson is now asking that the cop’s trial be delayed due to what he described as the “suspicious timing” of the settlement, reports the Washington Post.
Nelson has also requested that the court call back jurors who have already been selected for the trial to see if they heard news of the settlement and whether this has impacted their ability to be impartial. The judge presiding over the trial says he will grant this request from the defense.
In a hearing Monday, Nelson said he is “gravely concerned” by the announcement, calling it “incredibly prejudicial.”
“It’s amazing to me, they had a press conference on Friday, where the mayor of Minneapolis, on stage with city council, and they’re using very, what I would say, very well-designed terminology. ‘The unanimous decision of the city council,’ for example. It just goes straight to the heart of the dangers of pretrial publicity,” Nelson said.
The defense said a delay of the trial or more questioning of jurors would be among the appropriate remedies.
The prosecution acknowledged that the timing of the settlement was “unfortunate” but pushed back against the defense’s proposed remedies.
Judge Peter Cahill, who is overseeing the trial, said he would call the seven jurors already selected in the case back and question them about the settlement. He said he would take the defense motion for a delay under advisement.
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Nelson is also asking that the trial be moved out of Hennepin County, Minnesota, an option that the presiding judge had floated last year when he warned attorneys in the case to refrain from making public comments that could prejudice a jury. Cahill has yet to rule on this request.
Cahill did say he wished the city hadn’t announced the $27 million settlement while jury selection in Chauvin’s trial is underway but added that he doesn’t sense “any evil intent in the timing.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey joined the Floyd family and their attorney Ben Crump at a press conference on Friday to announce the historic settlement from the city. The $27 million is the largest payout for police misconduct Minneapolis has ever made. According to the Post, the $20 million settlement from the city to the family of Justine Damond—a woman who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in 2017—was not announced until 2019, after the cop had been convicted.
The Root has reached out to Crump for a comment on the charge that the announcement may taint the jury pool for Chauvin’s trial, which could ultimately make it harder for a fair case to be tried against the former officer in the pursuit of criminal justice for Floyd’s death.
During jury selection on Monday, Cahill excused one potential juror for cause after she admitted to hearing about the settlement and said that she could not be impartial in light of the city’s choice to settle.
Seven jurors have already been seated in the trial, which is set to begin with opening statements on March 29. However, since Cahill has agreed to call back jurors and question them about their views on the settlement, the start of arguments in the trial may very well end up being delayed anyway.
Chauvin is facing charges of second-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder in the death of Floyd. The trial of three other former Minneapolis officers—J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao—for their role in Floyd’s death, is scheduled to take place in August.