Two jurors who had already been chosen for Derek Chauvin’s murder trial were dismissed from the jury on Wednesday, over concerns about their impartiality after they heard aboutMinneapolis’s $27 million civil settlement
with George Floyd's family.
In a Zoom call, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill spoke to each of the first seven jurors who had been selected before the record settlement was announced last week, to determine if they had been exposed to the news and whether it had affected their ability to be fair and impartial.
One juror, a Hispanic man in his twenties, told Cahill that the news of the settlement impacted him, as it was a “large amount of money.”
He said he already had “strong opinions” about the case. “Clearly the city of Minneapolis has some strong opinions as well. This just confirms my strong opinions,” he said.
Cahill excused him from the jury after the man admitted it would be hard for him to be impartial as a juror.
Another juror, a white man in his thirties, said he saw the headline about the settlement but did not read the story.
However, the juror said the amount of $27 million was “kind of shocking and sent the message that the city of Minneapolis felt that something was wrong and wanted to make it right to the tune of the dollar amount.”
He said that if the headline had read $2,000 instead of $27 million, it would have not impacted him.
Although the juror told the judge that there were still a “lot of facts to be heard through the trial,” he said he was “swayed” by the high settlement amount. Cahill excused him, saying they were exercising “extreme caution.”
Cahill told the court that he excused the two jurors for cause as they “honestly” said they could no longer be impartial. He said he was “satisfied” that the five other jurors who were questioned could remain fair and impartial. A total of seven jurors have been seated. Five more need to be chosen along with two alternates.
Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, has repeatedly raised concerns that the “excessive” pretrial publicity and media coverage of the case would taint the jury pool. Cahill granted his motion to call back the seven jurors to question them about their knowledge of the settlement.
Nelson has also filed a motion to delay the trial and/or change the venue over concerns that the city’s settlement with Floyd’s family was “highly prejudicial” and the timing was “very suspicious.”
“The fact that this came in the exact middle of jury selection, it’s perplexing to me,” Nelson told the court on Monday while requesting for a change in venue.
Cahill said he would consider the dismissal of the two jurors on Wednesday as “more data” in weighing his decision — expected on Friday — on whether to delay or change the venue of the trial.
The city’s settlement was announced in a press conference last week where high-ranking city officials, including Mayor Jacob Frey, along with Floyd’s family and their attorneys, spoke about the impact of his death on the city and the city’s commitment to racial justice.
Attorneys for Floyd's family said Friday that this was "the largest pre-trial settlement in a civil rights wrongful death case in U.S. history."
Cahill called the timing of the settlement “unfortunate” and “problematic.”
"I wish city officials would stop talking about this case so much," Cahill said, but added that he didn't see "any evil intent" in the timing.
Last November, Cahill denied a motion from Nelson to change the venue of the trial, saying that he believed a fair and impartial trial could be held in Hennepin County.