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Recent Developments Complicate Jury Selection In Chauvin Trial

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Jury selection in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin is now in its second week. Chauvin is accused of murdering George Floyd. Video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes went viral and spurred national protests. The high-profile case and recent developments have complicated the process of finding impartial jurors. NPR's Adrian Florido is in Minneapolis covering the trial for us. Adrian, we're now going into the seventh day of jury selection. Where do things stand?

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Well, given that the judge, Peter Cahill, set aside three weeks to choose a jury, things are going a little bit faster than planned. As of this morning, nine of the 12 jurors plus two alternates they'll need for this case have been chosen. The pace has ebbed and flowed, though. On one day last week, the attorneys agreed on three jurors. Yesterday, though, they didn't see any. So far, they've chosen six men, three women. Five of the jurors are white, two are Black, one is Latino, and one identifies as mixed race. And, you know, because of the nature of this case, most people agree that it will be important to have a racially diverse jury. And so far, it seems to be racially diverse. So the process is moving along, but it also hasn't been without some hiccups.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. And the city settled a civil lawsuit with George Floyd's family. Has that complicated the jury selection process?

FLORIDO: It has somewhat. Last week, Minneapolis officials did say that they were going to be paying the Floyd family $27 million to settle a civil suit that the family filed against the city, against former Officer Chauvin and the three other officers who participated in Floyd's arrest. Now, technically, this civil matter is totally separate from the criminal trial, but Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, told the judge that he was worried it could lead jurors and potential jurors to form even more bias against his client. Listen to what he told the judge yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC NELSON: This is what the defense has been complaining about since the beginning of this case. You have elected officials, the governor, the mayor, making incredibly prejudicial statements about my client, about this case. You have the city settling a civil lawsuit for a record amount of money. The pretrial publicity is just so concerning.

FLORIDO: He asked the judge to delay the trial or to move it out of Minneapolis. The judge has not agreed to do either of those two things yet. Nelson also asked for jurors to be sequestered. The judge has also said no to that. The judge did agree to call the seven jurors who had already been chosen before news of this settlement broke to determine if they'd heard about it and if they could still be impartial. And those calls are happening this morning via Zoom.

MARTINEZ: So what does all this say then about some of the challenges for holding a fair trial in this case?

FLORIDO: What we've seen so far as attorneys have been questioning potential jurors is that the vast majority are coming into the courtroom and saying they already have a negative opinion of Derek Chauvin, and that's something that his attorney understands. He's even allowed some of those people onto the jury once they've assured him they could set those negative opinions aside and just listen to the evidence in court. But the challenge for the defense is really clear here. This is a high-profile case. Most people have seen the video of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd's neck. Media coverage will continue. People are hearing about the settlement, about the fact that a third-degree murder charge has been added against Chauvin, and that worries the defense, which is why it is so important for the defense to choose jurors that defense attorney Eric Nelson believes when they say that they can set aside their opinions about Derek Chauvin in this case.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Adrian Florido reporting for us from Minneapolis. Adrian, thanks a lot.

FLORIDO: Thank you, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.