Arguments begin Monday, March 29, in the trial of Derek Chauvin, accused of killing George Floyd. Minneapolis and the nation await the result in nervous anticipation, fearing riotous violence in the event of an acquittal. A jury has been chosen and will be seated first thing in the morning; then prosecutors will begin trying to convince a dozen people – sworn to the notion that Mr. Chauvin is presumed innocent – that he is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.
The prosecution is led by Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general, who was chosen as a special prosecutor by the governor, Tim Walz. Both are members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. Mr. Ellison, who is not highly regarded as a homicide prosecutor, went out and hired a Minnesota dream team to make sure Chauvin gets convicted. His lead lawyer so far has been Steven Schleicher, who Ellison hired out of private practice, and he will likely make the state’s opening arguments. Ellison has been in court during jury selection but has so far kept silent.
Eric Nelson represents Derek Chauvin. He has experience working for police officer defendants and for the police union. Mr. Chauvin’s defense is being funded through that union, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association’s legal defense fund. According to the Associated Press: “Though he was fired soon after Floyd’s death, Chauvin earned the right to representation through his years as a member of his local union, the Minneapolis Police Federation.”
Calling balls and strikes will be Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill. Judge Cahill has largely shown himself to be a fair jurist in this case so far. While he denied a defense request to move or delay the trial, he has given the defense many extra juror strikes during selection. He ordered cameras be allowed to broadcast the trial over a prosecution objection. Cahill has served as a prosecutor and a defense attorney during his long career.
Will Chauvin Testify?
Mr. Chauvin will only testify if required. It’s not the risks; it’s the stakes. Any time a criminal defendant takes the stand, he places himself in danger. This is true for innocent defendants and guilty ones, and the reason is easy to understand. Witness consistency is key to the appearance of witness credibility. Humans are remarkably unreliable in recounting past events with perfect accuracy. Any time attorneys can force a witness to commit to testimony, they can start tearing it apart. Suddenly, saying you were parked on the right side of the street instead of the left is mendacious rather than a mistake.
Any competent attorney might string together a few inconsistencies to create the appearance of a witness as unreliable at best or a liar at worst. If you see Chauvin take the stand, you know the trial is not going very well in the minds of the defense. It only takes one juror to be convinced of criminal guilt to ruin a defendant’s chances of acquittal.
The process so far has not been light on drama. Jury selection almost went off the rails due to the announcement of a $27 million settlement paid by the city of Minneapolis to attorney Ben Crump and George Floyd’s family for his wrongful death. Jurors who were previously selected had to be re-examined after the settlement news broke, and two had to be dismissed. Numerous prospective jurors had to be eliminated from consideration due to this pretrial publicity. Judge Cahill and the trial lawyers eventually selected a panel, with 15 jurors chosen as acceptable.
The trial will have 12 jurors and two alternates. The judge said he would send one approved juror home on Monday if all showed up for trial and impanel the rest. The current group of 15 breaks down as “six men and nine women; nine of the jurors are white, four are Black, and two are multiracial,” according to the court.
No doubt, the race of the juror sent away will be the first story to come from the trial on the first day of arguments. The trial is expected to take four weeks, and Liberty Nation will be here to cover it for you.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.