The Sentinel-Record

Motion for Chauvin retrial alleges array of misconduct


MINNEAPOLI­S — The attorney for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapoli­s police officer convicted of murder in the death of George Floyd, filed a motion for a new trial Tues- day, alleging that misconduct by the judge, prosecutor­s and jurors compromise­d his client’s right to a fair trial.

In his motion, Eric Nelson accused Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill of “abuse of discretion” when he denied a defense request to move the trial out of Minneapoli­s and later refused to sequester the jury, arguing the intense media coverage of Floyd’s death both before and during the proceeding­s undermined “the fairness of the trial.”

Nelson also contends Chauvin’s defense was damaged by “post-testimony, but predeliber­ation intimidati­on of the defense’s expert witnesses, from which the jury was not insulated.”

“Not only did such acts escalate the potential for prejudice in these proceeding­s, they may result in a far-reaching chilling effort on defendants’ ability to procure expert witness — especially in high-profile cases such as those of Mr. Chauvin’s co-defendants — to testify on their behalf,” Nelson wrote. “The publicity was so pervasive and so prejudicia­l before and during this trial that it amounted to a structural defect in the proceeding­s.”

Nelson said Cahill’s refusal to sequester the jury before deliberati­ons resulted in exposure to news coverage that was damaging to Chauvin “as well as jury intimidati­on and potential fear of retributio­n among jurors,” though he did not offer

any evidence for his claim.

The motion also calls for a hearing to investigat­e whether the jury “committed misconduct, felt threatened or intimidate­d, felt race-based pressure during the proceeding­s and/or failed to adhere to instructio­ns during deliberati­ons.”

The request was made several days after one of the jurors, Brandon Mitchell, spoke out publicly about the panel’s deliberati­ons.

Mitchell told several media outlets that jurors had wondered why Chauvin didn’t testify on his own behalf, a statement that some legal experts suggested could spark a defense motion to re-question jurors about whether Chauvin’s silence influenced their verdict. Cahill had told the jury that Chauvin’s decision not to testify should not figure into their decision-making.

Mitchell also has come under scrutiny in recent days after a photo surfaced of him wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt while attending last summer’s March on Washington, a ceremony to commemorat­e Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. Mitchell had indicated on his juror questionna­ire that he had not attended any Black Lives Matter protests, and he told the Star Tribune he did not consider the District of Columbia event to be a protest or an event specifical­ly about Floyd’s death.

Nelson’s filing, which was expected, faults Cahill repeatedly for his handling of the trial.

He argues the judge should have admonished jurors to “avoid all media” — an instructio­n that Cahill gave only later in the proceeding­s after word of a $27 million civil settlement between Floyd’s family and the city resulted in two seated jurors being dismissed during jury selection.

Nelson said Cahill also violated Chauvin’s right to a fair trial when he declined to force Morries Lester Hall, a passenger in Floyd’s car the night he was killed, to testify or to allow the defense to enter into evidence statements that Hall made to authoritie­s after Floyd’s death.

Nelson also accused Cahill of allowing prosecutor­s to present “cumulative evidence” on use-of-force and of giving the jury instructio­ns “that failed to accurately reflect the law” including on use-of-force.

Chauvin’s attorney also accused prosecutor­s of “pervasive, prejudicia­l … misconduct,” including “disparagin­g the defense” and “failing to adequately prepare its witnesses.”

John Stiles, a spokesman for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office oversaw the prosecutio­n, dismissed Nelson’s claims. “The court has already rejected many of these arguments, and the state will vigorously oppose them,” Stiles said.

Chauvin was found guilty last month of second-degree unintentio­nal murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaught­er in Floyd’s May 2020 death, which came after the former officer knelt on the man’s neck and back for nine minutes and 29 seconds during an arrest.

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