Legal teams for the defense and prosecution fought hard with every available resource over the last three weeks to complete the jury panel for the biggest murder trial ever to be held in Minnesota. Derek Chauvin goes on trial Monday, March 29, for the death of George Floyd, he is charged with second-and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
The jurors are to stay anonymous and unseen through the televised trial. Pressure on them will be huge, even more so given the possibility for book deals, interviews as well as harassment, and fear depending on how the verdict is received. The verdict will also likely fuel responses from supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and add to debates regarding police reform.
The Jury selection process had several ups and downs, as would be expected in such a racially charged environment, with court commentators overwhelmingly focused on whether the jury panel would be more sympathetic with George Floyd if it had more black members. Regardless, all jurors have sworn to honestly judge based on the evidence presented.
Out of a potential jury pool of just over 130 people, the 15 Minnesotans that were chosen are detailed below, along with some information they gave during the process.
Juror No. 1: A white man in his 20s or 30s who works as a chemist. He told the court that he has an “analytical” mind and had not seen the infamous nine-minute clip during which George Floyd died. The juror described himself as a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, though he criticized it as “too extreme” and said: “All lives should matter.”
Juror No. 2: A woman of color in her 20s or 30s who has an uncle who is a police officer in Minnesota. She said she is “super excited” to be called to be part of the jury pool in such a high-profile case, and having a relative on the force, would not affect her ability to be fair and impartial. She described herself as a “go-with-the-flow, open-minded type of person.” She has seen the Floyd video only once, and it gave her a “somewhat negative” impression of Chauvin. She said, “that video just makes you sad. Nobody wants to see somebody die, whether it was his fault or not.” She said there could be other explanations for Chauvin’s actions, suggesting that Floyd might have been resisting or civilian lives may have been in danger.
Juror No. 3: A white man in his 30s who works as an auditor and is friends with a Minneapolis police officer in the canine unit. The juror described himself as honest and straightforward and had not formed an opinion about the former officer’s guilt. He acknowledged having a “somewhat negative” view of Chauvin in light of the viral video. On his juror questionnaire, he wrote that Floyd had done “hard drugs” but said he doesn’t believe it should have much impact on the case: “Whether you are under the influence of drugs doesn’t determine whether you should be living or dead.” He said he could set aside his opinions and be impartial.
Juror No. 4: The fifth juror is a married IT manager in his 30s who emigrated from West Africa to the United States 14 years ago. He supports the ideals of the Black Lives Matter movement, saying, “All lives matter, but black lives matter more because they are marginalized.” He also voiced support for Blue Lives Matter and, when questioned by the prosecution, said he was strongly opposed to defunding the police, stating that the presence of police made him feel safer. He said that he was not on social media but had seen the video of Floyd’s death and formed a slightly negative view of Chauvin. Chauvin’s attorney pressed him on one answer that he had written in the jurors’ questionnaire—that, while discussing Floyd’s death with his wife, he had said, “It could have been me.” Asked what he meant by that, the juror explained that he used to live in the area where Floyd died and said, “It could have been me or anyone else. It could have been anybody. It could have been you, that’s what I mean.”
Juror No. 5: Single, white, mother-of-two, in her early 50s, said she is an executive in healthcare advocacy and admitted having work dealings with Attorney General Keith Ellison and his office. In the jury pool questionnaire, she said she had a “somewhat negative” view of Chauvin and that she thought he held his knee to Floyd’s neck for too long. She said she felt empathy for both Floyd and the officers, adding that “at the end of the day, I’m sure that the intention was not there for this to happen. Everyone’s lives are changed by this incident, and it is not easy for anyone.”
Juror No. 6: A black male youth sports coach in his 30s who works in banking. He said that he was keen to be a juror at a trial, which he viewed as a “historic moment.” In the questionnaire, he said that he did “not believe the defendant set out to murder anyone,” but that, having viewed the video of Floyd’s death, he was left at a loss as to what Chauvin was thinking. He professed himself strongly in favor of Black Lives Matters—as a statement, not a movement or organization, but his view of Blue Lives Matters was “somewhat negative.” He said, “I think that police lives matter, but I feel like the concept of Blue Lives Matter only became a thing to combat Black Lives Matter, where it shouldn’t be a competition.”
Juror No. 7: A white single mother in her 50s who is an assistant at a health clinic near Minneapolis. She wrote in her questionnaire that she could not watch the entire video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck “because it was too disturbing to me.” Nonetheless, she said: “I’m not in a position to change the law. I’m in a position to uphold the law.” Chauvin “is innocent until we can prove otherwise.”
Juror No. 8: A black father of one son expressed neutrality on almost all key points though he strongly disagreed with defunding the police—“the police do a lot; I would trust the police.” The man, who is in his early 40s, said that he had no opinion of Chauvin and only a “somewhat favorable” view of Floyd based on the fact that there had been so many demonstrations in support of him. Asked about Black Lives Matter versus Blue Lives Matter, he said that he believed, “every life matter’s but black people’s lives are not valued.”
Juror No. 9: A mixed-race mother of one said that she did not believe the justice system was perfect “because humans are involved, so there’s always room for improvement where humans are involved.” She admitted to having formed a slightly negative view of Chauvin, though she had a strong faith in the police in general. She said she felt “neutral” about Floyd but could set aside initial impressions and start from the “blank slate” of presumed innocence.
Juror No. 10: A white woman in her 50s who works as a registered nurse in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina. She said that, though she questioned why Chauvin had kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for so long, she had not formed an opinion regarding the cause of death or where the responsibility for it lay. She was questioned over her medical experience and said she expects “we all use life experiences to make judgments.” When the Judge pointed out she could not use her medical expertise to act as an expert witness, she said she realized that. The woman said she would like to know more about what training Chauvin had in “de-escalation and restraint” and wanted to know if Floyd was armed, stating that would make a difference to the decisions she might expect an officer to make.
Juror No. 11: A black grandmother-of-two thought to be in her 60s who is retired from her job in child psychology and now volunteers with youth to “help them with their homework, and help them find their way.” She said she had seen the video of Floyd’s death only once and had turned it off after four or five minutes because “it just wasn’t something I needed to see.” The woman said she was “neutral” about Chauvin and also had “no opinion of Floyd one way or another.” She wrote in her juror questionnaire that she agreed with Black Lives Matter because “I am black and my life matters.”
Juror No. 12: Is a white female thought to be in her 30s who works in commercial insurance. The woman said she had seen the video of Floyd’s death four to five times and had spoken to friends about it. She also said she had heard about the settlement but said it did not affect her opinion or ability to sit on the jury. The woman had written in her juror questionnaire that she had “somewhat negative” views on both Floyd and Chauvin. “The media painted Mr. Chauvin as an aggressive cop with tax problems,” she wrote. “George Floyd’s record wasn’t clean, but he abused drugs at some point.” The woman said she would be “terrified” if the police department was defunded and dismantled and has a strong respect for police officers, but she also agreed that “it is obvious change needs to happen.” She said she supported Black Lives Matter but does not get involved in protests. She said she will set aside everything she already knows about the case and decide based on the evidence in court.
Juror No. 13: The white female juror, who is believed to be either in her 40s or 50s, described herself as a dog-lover who enjoyed walks in nature and is an advocate for affordable housing. On opening the prospective juror packet for the case was, she said her reaction was, “Go big or go home.” She said that she had a slightly negative view of Chauvin, who she viewed as having a “leadership” role in the incident that led to Floyd’s death. She said she has never personally seen police officers respond to Black people or minorities with more force than white people. She also said a person should have nothing to fear from the police if they cooperate and comply with commands. “If you’re not listening to what the commands are, obviously something else needs to happen to resolve the situation,” she said. Though, “I don’t know how far the steps need to go.” She did express the belief that the criminal justice system is biassed against black and racial minorities.
Juror No. 14: The juror, a white woman in her 20s who works as a social worker, recently got a Goldendoodle puppy. She has been a social worker for five years and currently coordinates in-home services for people of all ages and mental health diagnoses to help them live independently. She said she has had conversations with others about police reform and said she thinks “there are things that should be changed.” This juror also described police and their jobs as important. She believes “black lives matter as much as Latina, police, etc.”
Juror No. 15: a white man in his 20s who works as an accountant said the length of Chauvin’s restraint on Floyd was longer than necessary, but he said he would be able to put that aside and weigh the case based on the evidence.
According to U.S. Census data, in Hennepin County, where the trial is taking place, white people constitute nearly three-quarters of the population. The jury panel thus skews more mixed than the county itself. It is also younger and more female than averages. A likely impactful moment in the trial will be how jurors react to the visuals of seeing Floyd’s death on video. Several jurors had already admitted to avoid watching it. The trial will also present an indication of where Americans are as a country: are they unified? Will they accept the evidence, be it positive or negative? People will be watching the trial unfold with interest starting Monday.