The jurors for George Floyd’s murder trial reflect Minneapolis’s diverse population and have measured feelings about the Black Lives Matter movement galvanized by his killing.
The 15 jurors—three of whom will be alternates—were selected in a 12 day process that ended March 23. They skew young, with most under the age of 50. Six of them are from minority groups. There are six men and nine women on the jury.
Four jurors are Black and two others identify as racially mixed, according to Court TV and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which have reporters in the courtroom. The court has limited press access to the courtroom and has taken steps to protect the identities of the potential jurors given heightened public interest in the trial.
Despite the racial makeup, many of the jurors were cool to Black Lives Matter, expressing support during questioning for the movement in general but skepticism about the organization itself and the violence that erupted during protests. Defense attorney Eric Nelson used questions about attitudes toward the social justice movement and protests that erupted after Floyd’s death to probe how prospective jurors felt about former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“I would prefer someone would express their beliefs in a different manner, but I understand what they’re trying to do,” the final juror selected—a white man—said in response to questions about racial justice protests during the National Anthem.
Several jurors said the media tends to overplay racial disparities and that various racial groups tend to be treated equally by law enforcement. One juror seated March 19—a white woman—said her workplace was briefly shut down by the rioting that followed Floyd’s death, but she said that wouldn’t affect her impartiality deciding the case. Several jurors drew clear distinctions between peaceful protests and violent riots, which they said harmed the community.
Chauvin faces three criminal charges in Floyd’s death, including a third degree murder charge added during the jury selection process. Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes before he died.
Jurors Quizzed on Police Attitudes
Prospective jurors were asked about both their views on Black Lives Matter and its Blue Lives Matter counter-movement, with answers carrying significant weight in determining whether they were selected for the jury. Many potential jurors harbored generally favorable views on the Black Lives Matter movement while remaining skeptical of the BLM organization. Blue Lives Matter, meanwhile, was less recognizable to jurors, while some had generally unfavorable views. Many said they were supportive of police in general and felt safer with law enforcement in their neighborhoods.
The attitudes toward police could be central to the case as jurors weigh whether Chauvin’s attempts to restrain Floyd involved excessive use of force or whether he should be criminally liable for the death. To that end, attorneys grappled with prospective jurors’ martial arts or military experience given questions over whether Chauvin followed proper police procedure kneeling on Floyd’s neck.
One juror is a retired nurse. Attorneys and Judge Peter Cahill during questioning grappled with whether she could keep her medical expertise from influencing her determination.
A fair trial means “we’re all working off the same script,” Cahill said. “You can’t be the expert witness in the jury room.”
Minneapolis’ unexpected decision to announce a $27 million civil settlement with Floyd’s family also upended the process. Two jurors who were seated were eventually let go after they admitted the settlement influenced their views of the case.
“I’ve asked Minneapolis to stop talking about it,” a frustrated Cahill said March 18. “They keep talking about it. We keep talking about it.”
However, Cahill during jury selection denied motions from Nelson to either postpone or relocate the trial, ruling the notoriety of the case wouldn’t make it easier to try the case elsewhere.
Opening statements in the trial are expected March 29. Chauvin faces a second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 40 years, along with a manslaughter charge (10 year maximum), and third-degree murder charge (25 year maximum).
—With assistance from Ayanna Alexander and Adam Taylor