Press-Telegram (Long Beach)

Key players in trial of ex-officer charged in George Floyd’s death

- By Amy Forliti

MINNEAPOLI­S » Jury selection begins Monday for a former Minneapoli­s police officer charged with murder and manslaught­er in George Floyd’s death. Derek Chauvin’s trial, which is expected to last weeks, will be overseen by an experience­d judge and argued by skilled attorneys on both sides. It will be streamed online for the world to see because the COVID-19 pandemic has limited who can attend.

Floyd, who was Black, died May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck while Floyd was handcuffed and pleading that he couldn’t breathe. These are key figures, elements of the trial:

COVID-19, security

Chauvin’s trial, one of the highest-profile criminal cases in Minnesota history, is taking place during a global pandemic that has had a dramatic impact. Precaution­s to guard against the spread of COVID-19 have limited courtroom space, leading the judge to try Chauvin ahead of three other fired officers charged with aiding and abetting.

And because the pandemic all but wiped out the possibilit­y of public seating, the judge is allowing the trial to be broadcast and livestream­ed — a rare occurrence in a state that doesn’t routinely allow cameras in court.

City, county and state officials are preparing for any sort of reaction that trial testimony or a verdict might elicit. Barbed and razor wire and concrete barriers surround the courthouse, and strict security is in place to protect trial proceeding­s. City and state leaders want to avoid a repeat of last year’s rioting that destroyed dozens of businesses and a police station.

The judge

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill is respected and has a reputation as a no-nonsense, fair judge.

He started in the county public defender’s office in 1984 and worked for 10 years as a prosecutor, serving as top advisor to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar when she was the county’s head prosecutor.

The prosecutio­n

Days after Floyd’s death, Minnesota’s governor announced that Attorney General Keith Ellison would take the lead on prosecutin­g the case. The county prosecutor’s office is still part of the case, but the unusual move was a win for local civil rights advocates who said longtime Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman didn’t have the trust of the Black community.

Ellison, the state’s first African American elected attorney general, previously served in Congress and worked as a defense attorney. His team of prosecutor­s includes Matthew Frank, an experience­d attorney in Ellison’s office who recently won a guilty plea in the case of Lois Riess, a Minnesota woman who got life in prison without parole for killing her husband in 2018.

Riess became notorious after she fled the state, killed a woman in Florida, and assumed her identity before she was captured.

Also on board are: Jerry Blackwell, who last year won a posthumous pardon for a Black man wrongly convicted of rape before the infamous Duluth lynchings of 1920; and Steven Schleicher, a former federal prosecutor who led prosecutio­n of the man who kidnapped and killed Jacob Wetterling in 1989.

The defense

Chauvin, 44, started working for the Minneapoli­s Police Department in 2001, making him by far the most experience­d of the four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest.

He was fired soon after bystander video of Floyd’s arrest emerged the following day. He was charged days later, and moved to a state prison for security reasons. He posted $1 million bond in October and was allowed to live out of state due to safety concerns.

His attorney, Eric Nelson, is among a handful of attorneys in Minnesota who often represent police officers. One of his bigger cases involved Amy Senser, the wife of former Minnesota Vikings tight end Joe Senser, who was convicted in the 2011 hitand-run death of a Minneapoli­s chef. Nelson argued that Senser should be sentenced to probation, but a judge gave her 41 months in prison.

The jury

Chauvin’s fate will be decided by 12 Hennepin County residents, whose names will be kept confidenti­al until further court order. Two alternate jurors will be selected to listen to testimony, but will not be part of deliberati­ons unless needed.

Prospectiv­e jurors were sent questionna­ires to determine how much they have heard about the case and whether they had formed any opinions. Prosecutor­s can block up to nine potential jurors without giving a reason, while the defense will be allowed up to 15 objections, with no reason given.

Legal experts say since pretrial publicity has been so pervasive, both sides will seek jurors who are willing to have open minds.

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