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George Floyd death: Jury selection for Derek Chauvin's trial paused by judge

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People gathered on Hennepin Avenue on March 7, 2021, in Minneapolis, to mourn the death of George Floyd ahead of jury selection.
People gathered on Hennepin Avenue on March 7, 2021, in Minneapolis, to mourn the death of George Floyd ahead of jury selection.   -   Copyright  Jerry Holt /Star Tribune via AP
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The trial of the former US policeman accused of killing George Floyd is set to get underway in the coming weeks.

Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter over Floyd's death in Minneapolis on May 25 last year.

Video footage showed the white police officer press his knee against the handcuffed black man's neck for about nine minutes.

Jury selection was due to begin ahead of the trial but was immediately paused by the judge, pending an appeal by prosecutors over the possible reinstatement of a third-degree murder charge.

Floyd's death sparked protests across the US that spread to Europe and triggered reflections on the colonial past of several countries.

Ramsey County Sheriff's Office via AP
This file photo provided by the Ramsey County, Minn., Sheriff's Office shows former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin.Ramsey County Sheriff's Office via AP

Chauvin and three other officers were fired; the others face an August trial on aiding and abetting charges.

Jury selection paused

The judge overseeing the trial in Minneapolis paused jury selection for at least a day on Monday while an appeal proceeds over the possible reinstatement of a third-degree murder charge.

Judge Peter Cahill said he does not have jurisdiction to rule on whether the charge should be reinstated against the officer while the issue is appealed. But he said prosecutors' arguments that the whole case would be impacted was “tenuous".

Prosecutors filed a request with the Court of Appeals to put the trial on hold until the issue is resolved. Legal experts say reinstating the third-degree murder charge would improve the odds of getting Chauvin convicted.

Picking the 12 residents from Hennepin County — in which Minneapolis is located — to form the jury is expected to take three weeks as prosecutors and defence attorneys try to ensure impartiality.

Potential jurors to be questioned individually

The potential jurors were sent questionnaires to determine how much they have heard about that case and whether they've formed any opinions.

Some of the questions included whether they have protested against police brutality, whether they believe the justice system is fair, or if they had watched the bystander video of Floyd's arrest and if yes, how many times.

Unlike typical jury selection proceedings, this jury pool will be questioned one-by-one instead of in a group. The judge, defence attorney and prosecutors will all get to ask questions. The defence can object to up to 15 potential jurors without giving a reason; prosecutors can block up to nine with no reason given. The other side can object to these so-called peremptory challenges if they believe the sole reason for disqualifying a juror is race or gender.

Both sides can object to an unlimited number of jurors “for cause”, meaning they must provide a reason why they believe that juror shouldn’t serve.

Mike Brandt, a local defence attorney, said prosecutors will likely seek out jurors who have favourable opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement or might have more outrage over Floyd’s death, while Chauvin’s attorneys would likely favour jurors who support the police.

In total, 14 people will be picked — two of whom won’t be part of deliberations unless needed. The jury's names will be kept confidential until further order of the court.

The trial's earliest opening statements are due to begin March 29.