Washington, Mar 8 (efe-epa).- The trial of a white former Minneapolis police officer accused of the murder of George Floyd kicked off on Monday, more than eight months after that African-American man’s death in custody triggered violent racial justice protests throughout the United States.
But the process of jury selection at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was delayed for at least a day when a snag quickly occurred over the question of whether the officer, 44-year-old Derek Chauvin, will face an additional charge of third-degree murder.
Bystander-taken video footage of the deadly May 25, 2020, incident in Minneapolis, Minnesota, showed Chauvin kneeling on the 46-year-old Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes while the suspect was handcuffed on the ground and repeatedly said he was unable to breathe.
Floyd, who had been arrested after being accused by a store clerk of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, was pronounced dead after being transferred to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.
Chauvin, who was released on bail last October, is currently facing charges of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Three other police officers who were at the scene and involved in Floyd’s arrest – including an African-American cop and an officer of Southeast Asian Hmong descent – have been charged with unintentionally aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Those three officers, who like Chauvin were subsequently fired, will face trial later this year.
Ahead of the start of Chauvin’s trial, hundreds of people held a demonstration Sunday in Minneapolis demanding justice for all victims of police brutality.
The trial was to begin with jury selection but it has been delayed over the matter of the third-degree murder charge, which prosecutors see as crucial to their efforts to secure a conviction.
The Hennepin County district judge in charge of the case, Peter Cahill, had dismissed that charge (the first one Chauvin faced) in October since it typically is not applicable when a suspect’s actions targeted a single person and did not put anyone else at risk.
Prosecutors, however, appealed that ruling and Cahill was instructed Friday by the Minnesota Court of Appeals to reconsider reinstating that count.
Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, responded on Monday that he would appeal the matter to the state Supreme Court.
Cahill ruled Monday that the trial could proceed with jury selection, but prosecutors challenged that decision and said they would seek an opinion on that matter from the Court of Appeals.
While waiting on that decision, expected on Monday afternoon, the choosing of jurors has been pushed back at least until Tuesday.
The trial of the 44-year-old Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department before he was fired, marks the first time a white police officer in Minnesota has been charged with the death of an African-American citizen.
The possible inclusion of third-degree murder charges in Chauvin’s trial could be crucial. According to the 2020 Minnesota Statutes, that count applies to a situation in which the homicide is not intentional but the defendant “causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind.”
Jury selection figures to be a particularly difficult task in such a high-profile, politically charged case. Opening arguments in the trial could commence as soon as March 29.
The list of possible witnesses includes more than 370 people, but it remains unclear how many will be called to testify during the time frame of between two and four weeks set aside for that part of the trial.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is leading the team of prosecutors, alleges that Chauvin did not intend to kill Floyd but that the action of kneeling on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds made him criminally responsible for his death.
The defense team led by Nelson alleges that it is highly likely that Floyd died of a drug overdose and that Chauvin used an authorized police technique to control a man who was resisting arrest and acting in an erratic manner.