Steve Karnowski, Associated Press, January 18, 2023
An attorney for Derek Chauvin asked an appeals court Wednesday to throw out the former Minneapolis police officer’s convictions in the murder of George Floyd, arguing that legal and procedural errors deprived him of a fair trial.
Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, pinned the Black man to the ground with his knee on his neck for 9 1/2 minutes. A bystander video captured Floyd’s fading cries of “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s death touched off protests around the world and forced a national reckoning with police brutality and racism.
Chauvin’s attorney, William Mohrman, told a three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals that the trial judge should have moved the case out of Minneapolis because of extensive pretrial publicity and unprecedented security precautions due to protest fears.
“The primary issue on this appeal is whether a criminal defendant can get a fair trial consistent with constitutional requirements in a courthouse surrounded by concrete block, barbed wire, two armored personnel carriers, and a squad of National Guard troops, all of which or whom are there for one purpose: in the event that the jury acquits the defendant,” Mohrman said.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill sentenced Chauvin to 22 1/2 years after jurors found him guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin later pleaded guilty to a separate federal civil rights charge and was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison, which is he is now serving in Arizona concurrent with his state sentence.
Even if Chauvin wins his appeal, his federal sentence will keep him in prison longer than his state sentence likely would because he would qualify for parole earlier in the state system.
Mohrman argued in his brief that the pretrial publicity was more extensive that any other trial in Minnesota history, and that the judge should have moved the trial and sequestered the jury. Mohrman wrote that the publicity and the riots, the city’s $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family announced during jury selection, the unrest over a police killing in a Minneapolis suburb during jury selection, and the sealing off of the courthouse, were just some of the factors prejudicing Chauvin’s chance of a fair trial.
Much of the questioning Wednesday centered on one juror who participated in a civil rights event commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington a few months after Floyd’s death. Only after the trial did the juror reveal that he had been there.