Judge Rejects Chauvin Lawyer’s Request to Move Trial After George Floyd Settlement Hit Headlines

March 19, 2021 Updated: March 19, 2021

A judge in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who faces charges in connection with George Floyd’s death, ruled Friday that the trial would not be moved, rejecting a request by the defense that was based on tainted jury concerns.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill on Friday denied the request by Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s defense attorney, who argued that his client’s ability to get a fair trial had been jeopardized when news broke of a multi-million dollar settlement to Floyd’s family.

Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges in connection with Floyd’s police-custody death, with jury selection for the trial fraught with issues given the high-profile nature of the incident, which sparked mass protests.

Nelson had asked for the trial to be moved or postponed due to concerns about a tainted jury pool after the $27 million settlement to Floyd’s family hit headlines.

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A mural of George Floyd is seen in George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, Minn., on Feb. 8, 2021. (Jim Mone/AP Photo)

The city of Minneapolis agreed last week to pay what Floyd family attorney Ben Crump called the largest pretrial settlement ever for a civil rights claim. Crump thanked city leaders for approving the settlement, saying it showed they “care about George Floyd.”

Word of the settlement led Chauvin’s attorney to renew his previously unsuccessful motion to move the trial to another city.

“I am gravely concerned with the news that broke on Friday,” Nelson said, adding that the announcement “has incredible potential to taint the jury pool.”

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Defense attorney Eric Nelson speaks to Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill during pretrial motions, prior to continuing jury selection in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn., on March 11, 2021. (Court TV/Pool via Pool)

This prompted Cahill to recall seven jurors who were seated before the settlement was announced, questioning each about what they knew of the settlement and whether it would affect their ability to serve. Cahill subsequently dismissed two of the jurors, reducing the likelihood that he would grant Nelson’s motion to move the trial.

Cahill ultimately ruled on Friday to deny Nelson’s request, called the timing of the settlement “unfortunate” but saying he believed a change in venue would not help him get a fair trial.

“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,” Cahill said, according to Fox News.

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Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides over pre-trial motions, prior to continuing jury selection, in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn., on March 15, 2021. (Court TV, via AP, Pool)

Selection of the jury, which is to include 12 jurors and two alternates, is almost complete. On Friday, a 13th juror was seated, leaving one more to be appointed. Barring any further delays in jury selection, opening statements are scheduled to begin on March 29.

Cahill did hand the defense one victory, however, approving a request to admit some evidence from Floyd’s 2019 arrest. Chauvin’s attorney sought to admit evidence from that arrest, arguing that striking similarities between the two episodes were relevant in the trial, particularly in terms of the cause of death.

In both arrests, as officers drew their guns and struggled to get Floyd out of the car, he called out for his mother, claimed he had been shot before and cried, and put what appeared to be pills in his mouth. Both searches turned up drugs in the cars. Officers noticed a white residue outside his mouth both times, although that has not been explained.

Paramedics who examined Floyd in 2019 warned him that his blood pressure was dangerously high, putting him at risk for a heart attack or stroke, and took him to a hospital for examination. In Floyd’s 2019 arrest, several opioid pills and cocaine were found. An autopsy showed Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system when he died in May of last year.

Nelson has argued that Floyd’s drug use contributed to his death.

“Clearly there is a cause of death issue here, and it is highly contested,” Cahill said, ruling to allow evidence from the 2019 arrest, but limiting it only to what pertains to the cause of Floyd’s death.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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