Under the court-ordered arrangements for coverage of the trial, two seats are reserved for pool reporters inside the courtroom. The courtroom itself has been reconfigured to accommodate Covid-related public health recommendations. Participating media outlets rotate two reporters per day into the courtroom. These reporters provide on the spot coverage to members of the pool.
Judge Cahill opened yesterday’s proceedings with a condemnation of “media” — one of Tuesday’s pool reporters — who had tweeted out material he observed at counsel table and “security arrangements” inside the courthouse (video below via Alpha News). Judge Cahill castigated these disclosures as “absolutely inappropriate” and “completely irresponsible.” He threatened to impose sanctions including expulsion of the media and closure of the media center across the street from the courthouse (where I am working along with the pool reporters).
On a personal note, I would add that I know and like the pool reporter who was the unnamed subject of Judge Cahill’s remarks. I didn’t see his offending tweets or related reports. Although I assume that Judge Cahill’s anger is warranted, I believe the reporter’s disclosures must have been innocent in the sense that they were intended to provide color and violated no previously stated prohibitions.
Via Zoom, Judge Cahill then examined the seven jurors selected last week before the announcement of Minneapolis officials that they had settled the Floyd family wrongful death civil litigation for the world-beating sum of $27 million. He asked each of the seven if they were aware of any recent developments related to the case with a single tactfully worded question and followed up as appropriate.
Two of the seven jurors — number 27 and number 44 — had come across coverage and professed to be unaffected by it. Two other jurors — number 36 (a Hispanic man in his 20’s) and number 20 (a white man in his 30’s) — acknowledged that they were aware of the settlement and had been seriously affected by it. Both of them — number 36 and number 20 — were excused from jury service.
Juror 36 formulated the common sense of the settlement: “That dollar amount was shocking to me. That kind of sent the message that the city of Minneapolis felt that something was wrong and they wanted to make it right to the tune of that dollar amount.”
At the outset of the day, we were down two of the previously selected nine jurors. However, by the end of the day two jurors had been added to the seven. We therefore ended the day where we had started it, with nine jurors selected and five more to go.
Jury selection resumed with juror number 75 (excused for cause) and number 76 (stricken by defense peremptory challenge). Number 76 was a very respectful black man with a record of military service. He said he had seen a lot of black people get killed with no accountability for it. He can’t explain the lack of accountability. He was familiar with the death of George Floyd from CNN’s coverage. “I’m a CNN guy,” he said.
I thought to myself, “Say no more, sir.” But he did. He saw the case as “another black man being murdered at police hands.” He held a “very negative” opinion of Derek Chauvin, but said he would evaluate the evidence introduced at trial. Referring to his views, he said, “My opinion doesn’t really matter…I can do what’s right.”
He harbors a jaundiced if widely held view of the justice system. If you’re black, he said, you make “a plea deal” and go to prison. If you’re white, “you get a slap on the wrist.”
Defense counsel Eric Nelson challenged the juror for cause. Judge Cahill found the juror to be introspective about separating his views from the case at hand. Nelson accordingly exercised a peremptory strike. Judge Cahill commented that the juror’s hostility to the Minneapolis Police Department provided a substantial basis for the peremptory strike.
Juror 78 was up next. He thinks he could be an impartial juror — he is by his own lights “a very centered person.” I thought that was a negative indicator, as it in fact proved to be.
He had seen news of the wrongful death settlement. It didn’t surprise him. I have in my notes at this point, “This guy is poison for the defense.” He expressed the view that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death, the central issue in the case. He thought there were many ways this outcome could have been avoided. He “would like to think” he could accord Chauvin the presumption of innocence, but wasn’t sure about it. It would be difficult for him “to start at ground zero,” he acknowledged. Judge Cahill granted Nelson’s challenge to the juror for cause.
I thought that these two prospective jurors were illustrative of the fair trial problems that permeate the case. Up next was juror number 79, a black immigrant with a thick African accent. He has lived in the Twin Cities for the past 20 years or so. Although I had a hard time making out a little of what he said, he is extremely thoughtful and articulate. He works in a management capacity and lives in a Minneapolis suburb where he feels protected by the police. He “strongly disagrees” with defunding the police. I would like to get to know this gentleman.
He doesn’t come to Minneapolis a lot, which I am sure is a benefit to what I perceive to be his positive frame of mind. Departing from the norm of the prospective jurors so far, he professed a neutral opinion of Chauvin (along with a “somewhat positive” impression of George Floyd). He is confident he can be an impartial juror. He would like to hear from Derek Chauvin during the case, but understands that Chauvin has no obligation to testify. As to Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, he is of the view that “Every life matters. We all have family to get back to at the end of the day.”
As I say, I would like to get to know this gentleman. He will be seated as juror number 8.
Based on her answers to the questionnaire, Judge Cahill knew that juror number 83 had sensitivities about service in this case. He examined her off audio and quickly excused her for cause. He noted that “she left the courtroom in tears.”
Juror number 85 is a working mom and wife. She works as a management consultant. She said she spends a lot of time at hockey rinks. She must be a hockey mom. She found the courthouse security “a little surprising” and “a little unnerving.” She appreciates the anonymity afforded the jurors through trial.
She is familiar with the settlement of the civil litigation. However, she asserted she could disregard it in this case. “The settlement doesn’t declare guilt,” she said. I commented in my notes that she is analytical and intelligent.
She has seen the bystander video six or more times. Her impression of Chauvin is “somewhat negative.” He appeared to take little action despite the pleas of bystanders, she explained, but can set her opinions aside and accord Chauvin the presumption of innocence.
She has been taught to respect and cooperate with police. She tends to agree with the proposition that if something bad happens to someone who didn’t cooperate with the police, he has himself to blame. She has no opinion on whether Chauvin caused Floyd’s death.
My assessment was that juror number 85 is as good a juror for the defense as Chauvin can get without being struck by the prosecution and that is how it played out. Juror number 85 is the ninth juror seated in the case.
At the end of the day, we were back where we had started. For those keeping score at home, the self-identified race, gender and decade of age information for the selected jurors in the trial so far is as follows:
· No. 2: white male; 20s
· No. 9: multi/mixed race woman; 20s
· No. 19: white male; 30s
· No. 27: black male; 30s
· No. 44: white woman; 50s
· No. 52: black male; 30s
· No. 55: white woman; 50s
· No. 79: black male; 40s
· No. 85: white woman [amended by the court Thursday morning to “multi/mixed-race woman”]; 40s
Judge Cahill concluded the day with announcement of his decision to grant three additional peremptory challenges to the defense and one more to the prosecution — on account of the issues related to pretrial publicity with which he has been contending. He will announce his rulings on pending motions for a continuance, for a change of venue, and for admission of evidence concerning Floyd’s May 2019 arrest. I infer that the grant of additional peremptory challenges reflects Judge Cahill’s probable denial of the motions for a continuance and change of venue. Based on comments he made in court earlier this week, my guess is that any evidence deriving form Floyd’s 2019 arrest will be severely circumscribed.