The murder trial of ex-cop Derek Chauvin in George Floyd’s death hit a new snag Wednesday when a Minneapolis judge was forced to dismiss two jurors who had already been seated in the high-profile case.
Hennepin District Judge Peter Cahill questioned the seven jurors who had been seated before news broke of a $27 million settlement of a civil wrongful death lawsuit filed by Floyd’s family — and determined that two of the panelists could no longer be impartial.
“It will impact it a lot,” one juror, identified as Juror 36, told Cahill on Wednesday morning.
“So, last time I was asked about my strong opinions about Chauvin,” he told the judge. “Clearly, the city of Minneapolis has some strong opinions as well. And this kind of confirms my opinions that I already had.”
The second juror, Juror 20, conceded that the amount of the settlement “shocked me” and “kind of swayed me a little.”
Only two of the seven said they had not heard of the settlement, and three others said they knew of it but it had not changed their opinion of the case.
But the development presents a new hurdle at the trial, where lawyers have struggled to seat jurors in the case.
Two other jurors had been seated since word of the civil settlement broke, for a total of nine on the panel. But Wednesday’s removal of two of them now brings the total of panelists down to seven.
Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, argued that news of the hefty payout tainted the jury pool — saying the city’s settlement suggests that the ex-cop is guilty of the charges.
“You have the city settling a civil lawsuit for a record amount of money, and the pre-trial publicity is just so concerning,” Nelson told the judge Tuesday. “I’m looking at the fact that we essentially still need three sitting jurors plus two alternates.”
Cahill called news of the settlement “unfortunate,” but noted that it was “not a legal decision. That’s a political decision.”
Cahill on Tuesday also expressed concern that prospective jurors would get word of reports that Chauvin may have been on the verge of a guilty plea last month.
According to reports, Chauvin was prepared to plead guilty to a third-degree murder charge until then-US Attorney General William Barr blocked the deal, USA Today said.
Jury selection — and the subsequent trial — is being held under tight security given the divisive and highly volatile nature of the case.
On Tuesday, Cahill railed at media reports detailing security measures on the 18th floor of the courthouse for the trial and threatened to pull cameras out of the courtroom if those reports are not removed.
The judge did not mention specific news reports or media outlets.
“Failure to do so will result possibly in you being kicked out of the media center as well,” the judge said at the start of Wednesday’s proceedings.
Cahill is also expected to rule on two defense motions this week — to delay or move the trial to another city due to the amount of publicity surrounding the case.
Chauvin is seen on a viral video pressing his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes at a Minneapolis intersection on May 25. The incident sparked worldwide protests over police brutality and racial injustice.
Jury selection will continue Wednesday, with lawyers now needing five more jurors and two alternates to impanel a jury for the trial, which is scheduled to start March 29.