By Bill Hutchinson, ABC News
(MINNEAPOLIS) — Like all jurors, they were randomly plucked from their community to perform a civic duty. But the panel chosen to decide the fate of former police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd entered a Minneapolis courtroom this week facing one big difference: The weight of the nation is on them.
While their faces and names are being closely guarded by the court, the anonymous jury is comprised of a group of mostly college-educated individuals from varied racial and professional backgrounds. They will be required to set aside their personal biases and reach a unanimous decision on Chauvin’s guilt or innocence based solely on the evidence they are presented with in the first major U.S. criminal case held during the coronavirus pandemic.
Even President Joe Biden is “watching closely,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Picked over an 11-day process from a prospective jury pool of 326 randomly chosen residents of Hennepin County, Minnesota, the 14 jurors, including two yet-to-be designated alternates, will have to stay emotionally strong to endure what has already been heart-wrenching testimony.
Despite powerful video evidence from all angles showing Floyd’s life fading away under Chauvin’s knee pressed on the back of his neck, legal experts said the jurors will also have to be intellectually adept to decipher a mountain of medical evidence that has resulted in opposing interpretations of what killed Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man. Was it Chauvin’s knee grinding into Floyd’s neck as the prosecution contends, or was it a combination of factors, including heart disease and the ingestion of drugs, that the defense says killed Floyd?
“I consider myself a pretty logical person,” a chemist, the first picked member of the panel, said during jury selection questioning. “I rely on facts and logic and what’s in front of me. Opinion and facts are important distinctions for me.”
Another juror, the niece of a police officer, said she was “super excited” to be on the case, calling it “a very important case, not just for Hennepin County but nationwide.”
“It’s just something everyone’s heard about, talked about. No matter the decision, people are still going to talk about it,” she said during jury selection.
The Chauvin trial jury is composed of eight people who are white and six who identify as people of color, including four who are Black. They range in age from their early 20s to 60.
“The diversity of the jury is much more diverse than that of the county, city and state. So that’s huge,” said Brian Buckmire, a New York City public defender and an ABC News legal contributor.
Among the panel are a tax auditor, an executive for a nonprofit health care company, a grandmother with an undergraduate degree in childhood psychology, a banker, an information technology manager who speaks multiple languages and a motorcycle-riding executive assistant.
Other members of the jury include a 20-something social worker and a critical-care nurse.
“The one that sticks out to me is a critical care nurse. In my mind, I’m thinking there are three people who the jury is going to look to find answers: the prosecutor, the defense and her,” Buckmire said. “I would not be surprised if we find out six months, 12 months down the road once this case is done that you hear jurors tended to look toward her for information about cause of death, manner of death or cases of death by drugs or death by knee. I think she’s going to have a strong influence in that jury room when deliberating.”
He said the jury is also representative of the panels being picked across the nation during the pandemic, with members tending to be higher-educated people with professional backgrounds as opposed to those selected prior to the contagion, which caused most courts to be shut down for months under stay-at-home orders.
“You’ve got to remember, it’s been a year that many people have been off of work,” Buckmire said. “The people who are working, are working jobs where you can work remotely at home. We’re going to probably see, not just in this trial but in all trials around the country, higher-educated people picked to be jurors on trials because economically they haven’t been affected as much as other people.”
The Chauvin trial, which began with opening statements on Monday, is expected to last four weeks. Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill has already informed the jurors that they will be sequestered in a hotel during deliberations.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. He has pleaded not guilty.
During jury selection, some of the jurors selected said they wholeheartedly support law enforcement, while others said they believe that racial inequality exists in the justice system. Some said they supported the Black Lives Matter movement that inspired nationwide protests and a racial reckoning in the wake of Floyd’s death, while others expressed an unfavorable view of the movement.
Several jurors were selected despite admitting to having a negative view of Chauvin, according to their jury questionnaires.
Most of the jurors said during jury selection that they had only viewed snippets of a viral bystander video of what turned out to be Floyd’s fatal arrest on May 20, 2020. Only one said he had viewed none of the footage.
“It’s not peculiar, especially considering that you have for-cause challenges and peremptory challenges (by the defense, prosecution and judge), to weed out people who have seen a lot of the video because I don’t think, regardless of what side of the fence you fall, when you watch that video you have to pick a side, or you tend to,” Buckmire said. “So, that makes sense that the jury would be people who saw the least because that’s intentional for both prosecution and the defense.”
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