MINNEAPOLIS — The murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, will start on time and remain in Minneapolis.
Judge Peter A. Cahill of Hennepin County District Court on Friday ruled against motions by Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer for a continuance and change of venue, setting the stage for opening statements to begin March 29.
Eric J. Nelson, Mr. Chauvin’s attorney, argued that the huge pretrial publicity of the case, including the news of the settlement last week between the city of Minneapolis and the Floyd family for $27 million, had prejudiced the jury pool.
Yet even as some jurors have said the payout influenced their opinion about Mr. Chauvin’s guilt and that they could not be fair and impartial, other jurors have said they could set aside what they have learned about the case in the news media and be fair.
Judge Cahill said that there is no place in Minnesota that has not been saturated with media coverage of the case, and that a delay would not reduce the intense public scrutiny of the proceedings.
The judge said the basis of the defense’s motion for a delay is “the hope that as time passes, people forget some of the pretrial publicity.”
He continued, “Unfortunately, I think the pretrial publicity in this case will continue no matter how long we continue it. Perhaps some of it with time might be forgotten by people. As far as change of venue, I do not think that would give the defendant any kind of a fair trial beyond what we are doing here today. I don’t think there’s any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity on this case.”
The timing of the civil settlement has angered Judge Cahill — who had to dismiss two jurors who had already been seated, because they said the settlement changed their view on the case — but nevertheless jury selection has moved quickly. On Thursday, three more jurors were added to the panel, bringing to the total to 12. The court now only needs to add two alternates to complete the jury, and more people were summoned on Friday to answer questions.
The 12-person jury is a diverse panel that includes seven women and five men. There are four Black jurors, six white people and two people who identify as multiracial.
In a separate ruling on Friday, Judge Cahill reversed himself and said the defense could bring up at trial details of an arrest of Mr. Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2019, almost one year before his death.
The 2019 incident, the defense has argued, is remarkably similar to the circumstances before Mr. Floyd died after being pressed to the concrete for more than nine minutes under Mr. Chauvin’s knee, as he gasped for breath. In both cases, Mr. Floyd is accused of ingesting drugs when confronted by the police and acting erratically. The centerpiece of Mr. Chauvin’s defense strategy is arguing that Mr. Floyd died of a drug overdose, not from Mr. Chauvin’s use-of-force.
Prosecutors have said the admission of the 2019 incident is a back door way for the defense to put Mr. Floyd’s character on trial, and they point to an important difference between the two episodes: in 2019, officers sought medical treatment for Mr. Floyd and he survived.