Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill rejected motions Friday morning to delay former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial and move the proceedings out of Hennepin County.
“With that, we will continue with jury selection. We will continue with jury selection in this case and in this county,” said Cahill.
Defense counsel Eric Nelson filed motions for a change of venue and continuance Monday in response to Minneapolis’s $27 million civil settlement with the family of George Floyd, whom Nelson’s client is accused of murdering.
“The fact that this came in the exact middle of jury selection — it’s perplexing to me,” Nelson said Monday. “Whose idea was it to release this information?”
Nelson said he was “gravely concerned” about the settlement’s impact on the impartiality of the jury pool and questioned its “suspicious timing.”
Cahill shot down a change of venue motion in November because he was unconvinced that moving the trial would make a difference. With easy access to the internet, most Minnesotans are aware of the case and have seen the video of Floyd’s death, Cahill noted at the time.
He rejected the defense motions on similar grounds Friday morning.
“The purpose of a change of venue is to ensure that the defendant has a fair trial by an impartial jury. The same is true as to the basis of the defense’s latest motion to continue, with the hope that as time passes people forget some of the pretrial publicity,” said Cahill.
“Unfortunately, I think the pretrial publicity in this case will continue no matter how long we continue,” he added.
Cahill said he does not think a change of venue would grant Chauvin “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,” he said.
He agreed that there has been “extensive pretrial publicity that was prejudicial,” including “the latest actions by the city of Minneapolis in settling the case.”
City leaders struggled to explain why they agreed to the record-setting settlement in the middle of jury selection during a press conference Thursday. City Attorney Jim Rowader said the settlement is “still in the process of being finalized,” raising additional questions about why it was announced last week.
“I’m not questioning whether they could or should settle the case at this time, but the bottom line is when it’s reported by the press it can affect the jury, it can prejudice or taint our jury pool,” he continued. “I’ll be very honest, when that was first brought up by the defense, I thought they were overstating it. I thought this won’t have an effect.”
Cahill said he was “a little shocked” when all of the seated jurors were called back for questioning Wednesday and “two said it did move them off of being fair and impartial.”
“We had all accepted them as fair and impartial jurors,” he observed.
Of an initial jury pool of 326, 57 have been questioned and 12 have been selected. The court will continue with jury selection Friday to find two alternate jurors.