But Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill said he planned to dismiss the final juror Monday to move forward with a panel of 12 jurors and two alternates, describing the extra alternate as an insurance policy to make sure the court has enough jurors in place to begin testimony.
“The whole point of this 15th juror was to make sure that we have 14 people show up on Monday,” Cahill said. “Nevertheless, I’m still not going to release the jury pool until the jury is sworn, on the off chance that we still have to pick some alternates.”
Just over 70 people were questioned during the process of seating a jury in a case that has drawn national attention and continues to inspire intense and conflicted emotions in a city where many remain traumatized by Floyd’s death and the civil unrest that followed.
Few jurors summoned in the case arrived without some knowledge of the events surrounding Floyd’s death. And almost all admitted to having a “negative” view of Chauvin, the White police officer filmed with his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes during a police investigation last May as the Black man complained of struggling to breathe and ultimately died.
But the court quickly replaced them and went on to pick seven more — a faster pace than many involved in the case had expected.
Cahill had set aside three weeks for jury selection, with the option to extend it. The court also summoned a larger-than-usual pool of prospective jurors — about 326 people, according to numbers Chauvin’s defense team provided in a court filing last week.
The seated jury is more diverse than many expected from Hennepin County, where the population is about 80 percent White. The 15 seated jurors include one Black woman, two multiracial women, three White men, three Black men and six White women. Four jurors are in their 20s, three are in their 30s, three are in their 40s, four are in their 50s and one is in their 60s.
The man seated Tuesday — identified in court as Juror No. 131 — described himself as a married accountant who would bring an analytical approach to the case. But like many jurors questioned during the grueling and often intense process, the man had nuanced views on issues of policing and race.
Under defense questioning, the man said he held a “somewhat negative” view of Chauvin, saying he felt the officer had used “unnecessary” force on Floyd. He generally agreed that police officers tend to use more force on people who are Black. But he also said he had respect for law enforcement, saying police officers perform a dangerous job and provide a “valuable” service to the community.
While the man expressed a “somewhat favorable” view of Black Lives Matter, he felt the movement was a “contributing factor” to the civil unrest that erupted here after Floyd’s death, leaving hundreds of buildings damaged or destroyed. Asked about the decision of professional athletes who have knelt during the national anthem to protest racial injustice in America, the juror said he understood why they did it but wishes they wouldn’t.
Standing during the national anthem shows “respect of those that have come before us and the system that we have in the United States,” the man said, adding he preferred a “different method” for protesting athletes to “get their message across.”
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, asked the judge last week to delay and move the trial, saying he was “gravely concerned” that news of the Floyd family settlement had tainted the jury pool. But Cahill agreed with prosecutors who pointed to the steady pace of jury selection as proof that pretrial publicity, including news of the settlement, had not harmed Chauvin’s right to a fair trial.
Nelson has argued that jurors won’t be able to put the news out of their minds, even if they swear under oath that they are able to do so, because most already view Chauvin in a negative light.
In a court filing made public Friday, Nelson said two-thirds of the 326 potential jurors summoned in the case said they had a “negative” opinion of his client on a questionnaire the court distributed months before the settlement announcement. He said more than half the jury pool expressed a “neutral” view of Floyd.
Of the 15 jurors seated in the case so far, only one said he had not seen all or some of the viral video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck. Nine of the 15 said they had heard about the $27 million settlement. All said they could put what they knew of the case aside and judge Chauvin based on facts presented in court.
Cahill had originally indicated he had the option of picking 12 jurors and up to four alternates — adding up to a panel of 16. But covid-19 precautions has limited the number of people allowed inside the courtroom — including jurors. “Fourteen, that’s all we have room for,” Cahill said Tuesday. “We could seat at 15 if we had room.”
Floyd was killed May 25 after being handcuffed and restrained facedown on a south Minneapolis street during a police investigation of a counterfeit $20 bill that allegedly had been passed at a local market.
Chauvin faces charges of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers charged in the case — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas K. Lane and Tou Thao — are set to be tried separately in August.