Minneapolis judge to rule whether to move trial of ex-policeman in Floyd death

Minneapolis judge to rule whether to move trial of ex-policeman in Floyd death
Minneapolis judge to rule whether to move trial of ex-policeman in Floyd death

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A demonstrator holds up an image of George Floyd during a rally on the first day of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, on murder charges in the death of Floyd, in New York March 8, 2021. — Reuters pic

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MINNEAPOLIS, March 19 — The judge in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, said he would rule today whether to grant Chauvin’s request to move the trial to another county.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill also said he would rule on Chauvin’s request to show the jury evidence of an earlier episode in which Floyd was arrested by police, about a year before Chauvin held his knee on the neck of a handcuffed, dying Floyd, a Black man, on May 25, 2020.

Chauvin, a 44-year-old white man, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

His lead lawyer, Eric Nelson, has complained to the court that publicity around the trial has tainted the jury pool in and around Minneapolis, not least the city’s announcement last week it would pay Floyd’s family US$27 million (RM111.1 million) to settle its wrongful-death lawsuit.

The announcement has also angered the judge, forcing him to dismiss two jurors he had seated after they subsequently said the headlines they saw about the settlement meant they could no longer give Chauvin the presumption of innocence.

“I have asked Minneapolis to stop talking about this,” Cahill said with visible irritation before recessing yesterday’s hearing. “They keep talking about it. We keep talking about it. Everybody, just stop talking about it.”

The court has already seated 12 members of a racially diverse jury, all from in and around Minneapolis, the state’s largest city, to weigh what is widely seen as a landmark case in how US law enforcement polices Black people. The court seeks only two more members to serve as alternates.

Legal experts have said the less that a jury reflected the racial diversity of Minneapolis, the more likely any eventual verdict would be met with skepticism.

“The big problem with change of venue is it would involve moving the trial to a less racially diverse county,” Valerie Hans, a Cornell University law professor who studies juries, wrote in an email.

Nelson also said a recent search he conducted of the police car in which Chauvin and other officers were trying to place Floyd after his arrest disclosed a methamphetamine pill on the back seat daubed with Floyd’s saliva.

He argued that the new evidence meant the judge should reconsider an earlier decision not to allow Nelson to show jurors evidence about a prior arrest with different officers in which a panicked Floyd swallowed opioid pills as police approached the car he was in.

Part of Nelson’s strategy includes trying to convince jurors that the fentanyl, a powerful opioid, found in Floyd’s blood at autopsy, was the real cause of death, despite two autopsy reports concluding it was a homicide caused by police restraints.

Prosecutors from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office say the 2019 arrest is irrelevant and that the defence is trying to “smear Mr. Floyd’s character and brand him as a criminal.”

“Mr Floyd’s 2019 arrest simply sheds no light on when or how he consumed drugs nearly a year later,” prosecutors argued in a court filing yesterday. “The new discovery of a pill in the squad car does not change anything.”

In the arrest on May 6, 2019, both the police and Floyd ended up speaking calmly after an initially fraught confrontation in which one officer drew a gun and the other a stun gun, body-worn camera video shows. Floyd was transferred to a hospital and received medical treatment. — Reuters

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