For now, anyway, four former members of the Minneapolis Police Department will face a jury of their Hennepin County peers. Despite massive riots in Minneapolis and a national spotlight on the death of George Floyd, Judge Peter Cahill rejected motions this morning from all four defendants to move the trial out of the Twin Cities. Cahill also rejected separation motions, meaning all four will face trial together:
A judge on Thursday declined defense requests to move the trial of four Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death, and also ruled that all four would be tried in a single proceeding.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill ruled after defense attorneys had argued that pretrial publicity had made it impossible for the four men to get a fair trial. They had also cited a Sept. 11 hearing in which the men and their attorneys were confronted by angry protesters outside the courthouse, saying it showed that holding the proceeding in the same area where Floyd died would be unsafe for participants. Defense lawyers had argued that witnesses could be intimidated, and jurors could be affected by chants from a crowd outside. …
Defense attorneys had also argued that the men should face separate trials, as each officer tried to diminish their own role in Floyd’s arrest by pointing fingers at the other. But Cahill rejected that too, saying the complications of separate trials were too great and that trying the officers together would “ensure that the jury understands … all of the evidence and the complete picture of Floyd’s death.”
Cahill apparently said he might reconsider the venue-change ruling at a later time, but he raised a good point about what purpose it would serve. Where would the trial move if the issue was solely pre-trial publicity? As the WCCO reporter notes, there’s not a corner of Minnesota where this case hasn’t received extensive coverage, especially after the riots in Minneapolis. The rioting elsewhere in the country would make it impossible to find jurors anywhere who could reliably have avoided learning much about this case, even if a venue outside of the state were possible, which it is not.
Two other rulings from Cahill might raise eyebrows, considering the reasoning on the change-of-venue motions:
Cahill also ruled the names of jurors will be kept confidential. The jury will also be partially sequestered during trial and fully sequestered during deliberations.
Audio and video coverage will also be allowed.
The jurors will come from Hennepin County and only be partially sequestered? That seems like an odd ruling when the judge is already tipping his hat to the reality of the pretrial publicity in this case. And adding in video coverage will only make that problem worse, especially if this results in a hung jury. What happens when Hennepin County attempts to retry this case for one or more of the defendants? The national interest in this case will touch off a trial-watching industry the likes of which we haven’t seen since the OJ Simpson trial twenty-five years ago.
That circus is scheduled to arrive in the Twin Cities in March. Set your DVRs accordingly.