MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision Wednesday that could revive a charge of third-degree murder against Derek Chauvin as attorneys in his trial seated the fifth juror who will hear testimony about the killing of George Floyd.
The state's high court said without elaboration that it will not grant the former Minneapolis police officer's request to review an appeals court ruling that said District Judge Peter Cahill improperly denied prosecutors' motion to reinstate a third-degree murder charge against him.
Cahill will address the issue Thursday, when the third day of jury selection begins at 8 a.m. with legal arguments.
"The Supreme Court was right to decline Mr. Chauvin's petition for review," Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting the case, said in a written statement. "The Court of Appeals ruled correctly; therefore, there was no need for the Supreme Court to intervene. We believe the charge of third-degree murder is fair and appropriate."
It's unknown whether Cahill will add the charge; he noted Wednesday that a related motion remains pending in the Court of Appeals.
Ellison's office argued Monday that the entire trial should be suspended since Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, asked the Supreme Court to intervene. Prosecutors called the Court of Appeals on Monday and filed a motion the same day asking it to postpone the trial; the court had not ruled by the end of Wednesday. Cahill has said he would proceed with Chauvin's trial as planned unless the appellate court asked him to stop.
Nelson said Monday he was prepared to proceed with trial; he did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.
Chauvin had been charged with third-degree murder, but Cahill dismissed the count in October, saying the statute's language didn't apply to the evidence in the case. The Court of Appeals issued a ruling in February upholding a third-degree murder conviction in an unrelated case that interpreted the statute's language differently from Cahill.
Prosecutors then asked Cahill to reinstate the count, and when he refused, they appealed. The Court of Appeals ruled last week that its February decision is binding precedent that Cahill must apply to Chauvin's case.
Adding third-degree murder to Chauvin's case would give jurors the opportunity to convict him on a count sandwiched in between the current charges — second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Two more people were seated to Chauvin's jury Wednesday, joining three from the previous day. A woman of color, a Black man and three white men have been selected.
The woman and two of the white men have relatives or friends who are current or former police officers. One of the men is also friends with a forensic scientist at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which investigated Floyd's death.
Prospective jurors were questioned about their prior knowledge of the case, their ability to remain impartial at trial and their opinions of Chauvin, among other topics.
Of the seven people questioned, two said they had a neutral opinion of Chauvin, three had a "somewhat negative" opinion and two had a "very negative" opinion of him. Five were excused from jury duty.
Chauvin paid close attention throughout the questioning, taking notes and looking on intently.
The first juror seated Wednesday is a white man originally from central Minnesota who works in sales data and is a father. He plans to be married in May but said he is willing to postpone his wedding if trial demands warrant it. He said he saw video of Floyd's death and felt "somewhat negative" about the event. He also answered on his questionnaire that he believed Floyd was "under the influence and somewhat unruly."
Questioned by Nelson about the answer, the juror said: "I'm assuming when someone is in handcuffs, they're in handcuffs for a reason."
He also said he believes officers are better trained to assess a situation and testify in court than civilians who might be more "emotion-based." He is friends with a BCA scientist and his cousin was formerly a police officer in another state.
However, he also remarked of the justice system that low-level offenses are "highly skewed" toward Blacks.
"I do have belief that people are treated differently because of the color of their skin," he said.
The fifth juror seated is a Black man who immigrated to the United States 14 years ago for school in Nebraska and moved to Minnesota in 2012.
He said it's his civic duty to serve on the jury and promised to follow the law despite forming a "somewhat negative" view of Chauvin based on seeing part of the viral video taken of Floyd's arrest last spring.
"We talked about how it could have been me or anyone else," he said of a conversation with his wife about the video.
The juror said he had once lived near where Floyd died in south Minneapolis, and that his father had called to check on his well-being.
The multilingual IT manager also said he "strongly" disagrees with defunding the police, "strongly" agreed that police made him feel safe and "somewhat" agreed that accounts of police brutality were overstated in the media.
He said "all lives matter," but "Black lives matter even more because they are marginalized."
Prosecutors struck a female civil attorney. She said she has a "neutral" view of Chauvin and Floyd but looked unfavorably on last year's protests. Arson and looting occurred throughout the Twin Cities alongside peaceful protests after Floyd's death.
"I believe there is some positive awareness that has come of the (protests), but yes, overall I would say it's been negative on our specific community," she said. "Specifically Minneapolis and Uptown, I would say negative."
Prosecutors also struck a white Minneapolis woman who was critical of the Floyd protests but spoke well of protesters who demonstrated outside the governor's residence calling for the loosening of COVID-19 protective measures.
"I don't see anything being accomplished by it, except, I suppose bringing attention to the frustrations of the people involved," she said of the Floyd protests. She later credited COVID-19 protesters with speeding along the state's partial reopenings.
The final potential juror of the day was a man who served as a church leader and was highly critical of the police and Chauvin. Under questioning from Nelson and Cahill, he said he believed he could be a fair and impartial juror. The defense struck the man.
Former Officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are set to go on trial together Aug. 23 on charges of aiding and abetting and murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death.