Derek Chauvin’s attorney filed a motion for a new trial Tuesday evening, citing a litany of factors that inhibited the former cop’s right to a fair trial.
Defense counsel Eric Nelson accused the prosecution, led by Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office, of committing “pervasive, prejudicial prosecutorial misconduct” by “disparaging the Defense; improper vouching; and failing to adequately prepare its witnesses.”
Several events occurred throughout the course of the trial that could bolster Chauvin’s case, beginning with Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill’s failure to sequester the jury prior to deliberations.
“The Court abused its discretion when it failed to sequester the jury for the duration of the trial, or in the least, admonish them to avoid all media, which resulted in jury exposure to prejudicial publicity regarding the trial during the proceedings, as well as jury intimidation and potential fear of retribution among jurors, which violated Mr. Chauvin’s constitutional rights to due process and to a fair trial,” said Nelson. He has asked the court to grant Chauvin a new trial and hold a hearing to impeach the verdict. This is called a Schwartz hearing and involves recalling jurors for questioning about alleged misconduct.
Nelson said the publicity surrounding the trial “was so pervasive and so prejudicial” that it “amounted to a structural defect in the proceedings.”
Next, the city of Minneapolis entered into a $27 million settlement with the family of Chauvin’s victim while the jurors who would determine the police officer’s fate were being picked. Two jurors who had already been seated were dismissed because of their knowledge of the settlement.
Then, as the trial was dragging on, another black man was shot by police just outside of Minneapolis, setting off 10 days of riots and protests that were attended by a U.S. congresswoman.
“We’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business,” U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters said while speaking to a crowd of protesters outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
Her comments were called “abhorrent” by Judge Cahill, who nonetheless rejected Nelson’s motion for a mistrial but agreed that Waters may have given the defense “something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.”
“The cumulative effect of the multiple errors in these proceedings deprived Mr. Chauvin of a fair trial, in violation of his constitutional rights,” Nelson said in his Tuesday motion, which was filed shortly after it was revealed that a juror may have lied about the extent of his involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement.
‘Spark some change’
Brandon Mitchell, one of 12 jurors who voted to convict Chauvin on all counts, was the first, and so far only, juror to come forward publicly.
But it was recently discovered that Mitchell attended a rally while wearing a shirt with the letters “BLM” and phrase “Get your knee off our necks” last August. He was also wearing a “Black Lives Matter” hat at that time.
The photo was posted to Facebook by Mitchell’s uncle with the caption, “the next generation being socially active representing in D.C.”
Some think this means Mitchell lied in his answers to two questions on a questionnaire he was required to fill out prior to jury selection.
The questions asked the following:
- “Did you, or someone close to you, participate in any of the demonstrations or marches against police brutality that took place in Minneapolis after George Floyd’s death?”
- “Other than what you have already described above, have you, or anyone close to you, participated in protests about police use of force or police brutality?”
Mitchell answered “no” to both of these questions.
He said he attended the March on Washington anniversary rally in Washington, D.C., and admitted the photo was taken of him on Aug. 28, but couldn’t remember ever owning or wearing the shirt or hat, according to the Daily Mail.
Mitchell claimed the rally was not a protest of police brutality or related to George Floyd’s death, despite the fact that Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, spoke at the rally. Floyd’s sister as well as family members of other black people killed by police also spoke.
According to a New York Times report, the rally Mitchell attended dealt explicitly with the topic of police brutality and countless protesters were pictured with signs or shirts alluding to various use-of-force incidents.
“You act like it’s no trouble to shoot us in the back. You act like it’s no trouble to put a chokehold on us while we scream ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times,” Rev. Al Sharpton said at the protest, which was called “Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks.”
Mitchell defended the fact that he attended the rally, saying he went because he had never been to D.C. and wanted to have “the opportunity to be around thousands and thousands of black people,” the Star Tribune reported.
In his interview in court with Nelson, Mitchell said that he had knowledge of some facts regarding the case, like Floyd’s attempt to use a counterfeit bill, Chauvin’s act of putting his knee on Floyd’s neck, and the crowd’s recording. He also had heard about the two different autopsies performed and logistics regarding the trial.
Mitchell said he had a “very favorable impression” of the Black Lives Matter movement on his questionnaire. Police don’t necessarily make him feel safe, but he does know some cops who are “great guys,” he said. He also said on his questionnaire that he wanted to be a juror because of “all the protests and everything that has happened after the event” and because the case was “the most historic” of his lifetime.
He said he had a neutral view of both Chauvin and Floyd, and believed he could be an impartial juror.
Recently, Mitchell spoke out in an interview about his desire to “try to spark some change” by being part of a jury.
“It’s important if we want to see some change, we want to see some things going differently, we gotta get out there and get into these avenues, get into these rooms to try to spark some change. Jury duty is one of those things,” Mitchell said on a show called “Get Up! Mornings.”
Deliberations lasted between four and six hours, Mitchell said in various interviews.
“We definitely figured out manslaughter within the first hour, right away … The second-degree murder we figured out in maybe 30-45 minutes,” he said. Mitchell noted in an interview with Law and Crime Network that none of the defense’s witnesses stood out to him as “star witnesses.”
Even though the jury’s deliberations were considered quick for a high-profile murder case such as this, Mitchell said he felt like it “should have lasted 20 minutes.”
Nelson said Tuesday that his motion was filed “on the grounds that the jury committed misconduct, felt threatened or intimidated, felt race-based pressure during the proceedings, and/or failed to adhere to instructions during deliberations, in violation of Mr. Chauvin’s constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.”
Anthony Gockowski contributed to this report.