Final Chauvin pretrial notes

At least for purposes of double jeopardy, the trial of Derek Chauvin for the alleged murder of George Floyd begins tomorrow with the empaneling of the jury selected to sit in the case. Opening statements will follow.

I offered miscellaneous notes on various aspect of the case here (March 1), here (March 2, on “venue and the mob”), and here (March 7). I want to add to these notes this morning.

There is a late breaking press freedom issue in the case. The Daily Mail published the body cam footage that was on file with the court in the case after it was copied by someone in violation of the terms set by the court for access to it. The court has subsequently denied the Daily Mail media credentials to cover the case. The court order barring the Daily Mail was just reduced to writing last week and is posted online here along with the Daily Mail’s email correspondence with the court.

On Friday the Daily Mail filed a writ of prohibition with the Minnesota Court of Appeals seeking to have the court order set aside. The Daily Mail’s petition is posted online here. Based on the Daily Mail’s petition, I think the court order is likely to be set aside in due course.

When I undertook coverage of the case, I wondered if I would have anything to add to what everyone can see with his own eyes in the gavel to gavel television coverage. I still wonder about that, but I am motivated to continue my coverage by stories such as today’s big page-one Star Tribune feature by Reid Forgrave and Maya Rao “Derek Chauvin trial represents a defining moment in America’s racial history.” Subhead: “Chauvin case to add to national racial legacy.”

Yes, it takes two reporters to write a story this bad. The facts of the case are subsumed to the passion play the Star Tribune promotes.

The central issue in the case is undoubtedly the cause of George Floyd’s death. Floyd was very high on fentanyl and meth when he was placed under arrest. Floyd’s state of inebriation contributed to his death. In the case against Chauvin the prosecution seeks to prove that Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd was also a substantial contributing factor in his death.

Forgrave and Rao dispense with the facts in favor of symbolism: “The trial itself is about what happened that May evening, but it will also be a vessel into which a splintered society places its rage, anxieties and hopes. Like the trial after Rodney King’s beating, like the trial after Emmett Till’s murder, like the Scottsboro Boys’ trial, this case will be viewed as another chapter — perhaps a turning point — in America’s racial history.”

The facts of the case have gone missing. They are absent from the Star Tribune story along with the question whether Chauvin can get justice in Hennepin Country from an impartial jury in the face of publicity like this and in the face of the threats to the safety of the community that lie in the very near background. Reporter Reid Forgrave makes me ask (sorry), after such knowledge what Forgraveness?

My interest in the case is in the question of justice. The Star Tribune’s interest is elsewhere. Among the stories they have overlooked is the State’s use of a jury consultant who has appeared in court every day “assisting the prosecution.” Her name is Christina Marianakis. The average juror in this case arrived with a negative impression of Chauvin. I don’t think Marianakis really had much to do. The challenge is all on the other side, not that you would know that if you get your news from the Star Tribune or its like elsewhere.

Given the media’s interest in the racial angle, the court has provided the media the racial self-identification and age demographic of the jurors. Here is the information on the twelve:

• 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: multi/mixed-race woman; 40s
• No. 89: white woman; 50s
• No. 91: black woman; 60s
• No. 92: white woman; 40s

Here are my notes on the the twelve jurors who will serve as regulars. The first three are adapted from my notes and the rest are excerpted from my daily trial updates.

Juror number 2

Juror number 2 is an intelligent guy who works as a chemist. He is passionate about his work. In the narrative account of what he knew about the case in his juror questionnaire, he wrote “Floyd escaped from the car and was killed.” He professed not to have seen the videos. He has visited the scene at 38th and Chicago because Floyd’s death was “a transformative event.” He strongly agrees with the proposition that the judicial system is biased against blacks.

He views Black Lives Matter as “too extreme,” but he supports the movement. He believes that everyone should matter equally. He referred at one point to his synagogue in one of Minneapolis’s western suburbs. If I were defense counsel Eric Nelson, I would have pressed this guy much more intensely.

Juror number 9

Juror number 9 is a young lady originally from Brainerd in outstate Minnesota. She was “super excited” to be summoned in this case. The case is a huge deal nationwide, she said, very important to everyone, but she understands how the outcome will affect someone’s life. Could she foresee herself voting to acquit? She committed to render an impartial verdict based on the evidence. She has a somewhat negative impression of Derek Chauvin. She wants to hear all the evidence in the case.

She has a relative who serves as a police officer in Brainerd. She believes that blacks don’t receive equal treatment in the judicial system, but that Black Lives Matter has turned in a propaganda scheme.

Juror number 19

My notes reflect that juror number 19 was “honest, straightforward, easy to talk to.” He has no concerns for his or his family’s personal safety. It makes me wonder if he in touch with the reality of this case.

He works as an auditor. He had seen portions of the video two or three times and had a somewhat negative view of Chauvin because “someone died, and that’s obviously not a positive thing.” He thought that “George should have been given the same justice as Chauvin,” although he expressed no view of Chauvin’s innocence or guilt. He didn’t think Floyd’s use of drugs should influence the outcome of the case against Chauvin.

Juror number 27

Juror number 27 is a multilingual immigrant. He came to the United States — I think from somewhere in Francophone Africa — 14 years ago. He works in IT. He loves technology. He expressed no concern for his physical safety. He said he wants to serve as a juror to make the justice system work. In response to questions posed by pro bono prosecutor Steve Schleicher, he stated he disagrees with proposals to defund the police.

Juror number 44

Juror number 44 is an executive with a health care nonprofit. Her opinion of Chauvin based on the videos she has seen is “somewhat negative.” She expressed sympathy for George Floyd (“he didn’t deserve to die”) and the officers. “Everyone’s life was changed by this incident,” she said.

She believes that our laws haven’t kept up with social changes. Reform is needed. She believes that the judicial system is racially biased, that excessive force against blacks must stop, that the system is “inherently biased,” that “white privilege” is a reality.

However, she is an analytical person who asserts she can and will be fair and impartial. She understands she is required to render “a verdict based on the facts.” She is not good for the defense but Nelson passed her for cause because he has a limited number of peremptory strikes and an unfavorable jury pool with which to contend.

Juror number 52

Juror number 52 professed to be “a friendly, positive person.” He works in banking and coaches youth sports. He sounded to me like an extremely decent and reasonable man, but he has views that would have made me want to strike him. He believes that racial discrimination exists “well beyond what the media can report.” He thought that the other three officers should have intervened to stop Chauvin, as has just about every prospective juror, but he professed his ability to be impartial and follow the law as given. He wants to serve as a juror. He would love to be a part of “this historic case,” he said.

Juror number 55

Juror number 55 struck me as dangerous for the defense. She is a white woman in her 50’s who is an executive assistant at a health clinic. On the jury questionnaire she said she has a “somewhat negative” view of both Derek Chauvin and Black Lives Matter. She expressed concerns for her personal safety depending on “the end result.” The question, she said, is how others will perceive the verdict. I read her as a possible leader on the jury.

Juror number 79

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.”

Juror number 85

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 city’s $27 million 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 89

Juror number 89 had also been exposed to the settlement. In her case, even though she is trying to avoid the news, she heard of it through a passing mention on the radio. She knew the amount was $27 million. She stated that the settlement didn’t affect her view of the criminal case.

She is an experienced nurse who lives alone in the first-ring Minneapolis suburb Edina. She expressed ambivalence about being summoned to jury service in this “big case.” It portends “a lot of repercussions.” She is concerned about her safety following the trial, but reassured by the security in the courthouse and the anonymity afforded the jurors. It “kind of” makes her feel better. She is no dummy; she is unsure how comfortable she is with the prospect of her name being out there somewhere down the road.

Her juror questionnaire provides a narrative of the facts of the May 25 arrest up to Floyd’s death that is probably based on television news. She holds neutral opinions of both Floyd and Chauvin. She seemed to think that Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck too long “knowing he died.” She is unsure of the cause of death. She does not distrust the police.

Juror number 91

Juror number 91 is also aware of the $27 million wrongful death settlement. An older lady who worked in marketing for a financial company, 25-30 years ago she lived in the neighborhood where the incident occurred. She doesn’t return to the neighborhood or even come much to Minneapolis. She said she hasn’t been downtown in years. I chalk up her good attitude to avoidance of the city.

She enjoys “taking care of her family.” She has “a couple grandchildren.” Her son-in-law is a physician.

She is excited to have the opportunity to serve as a juror in the case. She was proud to fill out the questionnaire. She seldom watches the news and has only seen the video once, for four or five minutes, before she shut it off. She expressed neutral views of George Floyd and Derek Chauvin. She knows there are two sides to every story. “I only know the surface,” she said, and thought more information would be helpful before she makes up her mind.

She grew up in south Minneapolis, where the incident occurred. She lamented the many stores that were looted and destroyed. She has a relative who is a police officer. She isn’t close with him, but she is proud of him for standing up as a police officer. Asked on the questionnaire about her view of Black Lives Matter, her response was: “I am black and my life matters.” She expressed no view of the organization.

I view juror number 91 as a good citizen. Her degree is in child psychology. She occasionally volunteers with a youth organization to help kids with their homework. I have her down as about as good as it gets for the defense.

Juror number 92

Although she stated it had no effect on her view of the case, juror number 92 was also aware of the $27 million settlement. She is family-oriented and loves her work in the business of commercial insurance. She has some concern about “what would happen to [her] afterwards” if she were to serve as juror. She would be okay with the release of her name at a later date.

She has seen a clip of the video. She holds “somewhat negative” views of both Floyd and Chauvin. The media have painted Chauvin as “an aggressive cop with tax problems.” She is aware that “George Floyd’s record wasn’t clean” and that “he abused drugs at some point.” Her opinion is that the police used excessive force but that Floyd was not completely innocent.

Juror number 92 is not a classic Hennepin County juror. She “strongly disagrees” with defunding the police. She sees both positive and negative effects to have followed on Floyd’s death. “We need law enforcement,” she said. Why? “Look at the riots.”

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