MINNEAPOLIS – One prospective juror's voice quivered as she told attorneys during jury selection that she feared for her family's safety if chosen for the panel that will decide the fate of a white former police officer charged with killing George Floyd. When the judge excused her, the woman exhaled in relief.
Jurors at all trials feel pressure, knowing their decisions will alter lives. But the weight on jurors in Minneapolis is in a whole different category as they'll be asked whether to assign guilt in the death of a Black man that prompted some of the largest protests in U.S. history.
Bystander video of the confrontation is expected to be a key exhibit at trial, with opening statements set for Monday. It shows Derek Chauvin using his knee to pin Floyd's neck to the ground for about nine minutes during an arrest last May. Floyd cried he couldn’t breathe and called for his mother before his body went limp.
A looming question is whether Chauvin, charged with murder and manslaughter, can get a fair trial with so much pressure on jurors and with some potentially fearing the consequences to the city and country should they reach a verdict others oppose.
A high fence installed around the courthouse for the trial is a daily reminder for jurors of security concerns. On some days, protesters gathered just beyond it, holding signs that read, “Convict Derek Chauvin” and “The World Is Watching.”
Jurors are well aware that Floyd’s death led to months of protests in Minneapolis and cities nationwide. They’re aware, too, that thieves took advantage of demonstrations to break into, ransack and sometimes burn down stores.
A judge denied a request to change the trial’s venue, a ruling Chauvin could cite on appeal if convicted. Appeals with change-of-venue disputes at their core are rare but not unprecedented.
A U.S. appeals court in 1999 vacated white Detroit police officer Larry Nevers' conviction in the beating death of a Black motorist, even though evidence against him seemed strong. The court noted how at least one juror heard that the National Guard was on standby in case Nevers was acquitted and violence ensued.