The start of the trial of Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis Police Officer charged with killing George Floyd, has been delayed Monday by the presiding judge who has opted to wait and see whether an appeals court will reinstate a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, which would make it easier for AG Keith Ellison & company to score a conviction in what's expected to be one of the most high-profile trials in recent memory.
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who is presiding over the trial, threw out the third-degree murder charge last fall. On Monday, he sent prospective jurors home for the day as he said he wanted to hear from the Court of Appeals about the prosecution's request - which was initially granted - to revive the third-degree murder charge, as well as findings about whether he has jurisdiction to try the case, an issue that has been raised by the prosecution. The appeals court found on Friday that Cahill shouldn't have thrown out the third-degree murder charge, but Chauvin's defense attorney, Eric Nelson, is petition the Minnesota Supreme Court to overturn the charge.
Floyd's autopsy report showed the man, whose death set off a wave of violent street protests, many of which devolved into rioting and looting, had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system at the time of his death (he was also found to be COVID-19 positive). Prosecutors contend Floyd, 46, was killed by Chauvin's knee, compressed against Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes while he was handcuffed and pinned to the pavement following a struggle with Chauvin and three other officers, who will face trial later this year on charges of abetting Floyd's killing. But in Chauvin's case, the question at the heart of the decision is whether what people saw on the cellphone video of Floyd's death was a murder, or a terrible tragedy.
The autopsy findings potentially complicate the prosecution's push for a murder conviction, which is why it's hardly a surprise that prosecutors are trying to mitigate the risks of an embarrassing acquittal.
It's easy to see the future on this one. Fentanyl in Floyd's system makes a murder conviction of any kind unlikely. Riots are coming. https://t.co/8eSdU9bEyo— Scott Adams (@ScottAdamsSays) March 8, 2021
Although Judge Cahill sent jurors home for the day, he has ordered proceedings to restart at 1330CT (1430ET) to see whether there has been a decision on whether the third-degree murder charge will be added, or not.
Even though opening statements from the defense and prosecution aren't expected until later this month, hundreds of protesters have already gathered outside the Hennepin County Courthouse where the trial is expected to take place. Videos of the marchers, many of whom carried signs with messages like "justice for George" and "Black Lives Matter", flooded social media, even as it's widely expected that the trial won't resume until Tuesday.
“If #GEORGEFLOYD don’t get it, shut it down.”— Chanley Shá Painter (@ChanleyCourtTV) March 8, 2021
JUST NOW hundreds of protesters chant and March in front of the downtown #Minneapolis courthouse where the #DerekChauvin trial is taking place. pic.twitter.com/P65Tbfk3Wk
The criminal prosecution of Chauvin, due to be broadcast live on Court TV, is likely to be among the most closely watched in American history. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Adding a third-degree manslaughter charge to the mix would increase the prosecution's chances of winning a conviction on a murder charge.
Judge Cahill said he doesn't expect jury selection to continue until at least tomorrow.
"I did indicate it was my intent that we’d go forward with motions in limine and jury selection, unless someone tells me not to," Cahill said after the brief recess. "I think realistically we’re not going to get to any jury selection or we won’t have an answer until at least tomorrow."
Authorities are already bracing for more riots and unrest as the trial begins, even though opening statements from the prosecution and defense aren't expected until later this month. At that time, least 2K National Guard troops will be deployed in the city, with 2/3rds devoted to protecting property, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said.
The courthouse has been reinforced with fencing to stop protesters from disrupting the proceedings.
Additionally, police from surrounding cities and state and federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, will also be sent to help maintain order during the meat of the trial. The city of Minneapolis has paired police with firefighters to rapidly respond if riots erupt.