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Jury Selection Begins For The Trial Of Derek Chauvin

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After a day of procedural delays, jury selection has begun in the trial of Derek Chauvin. He's the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd. NPR's Adrian Florido is in Minneapolis covering the trial.

Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So jury selection has started, but this is such a high-profile case taking place during a pandemic. I'm guessing it looks different from most jury selection proceedings. What's going on?

FLORIDO: It does, in part because of the pandemic, also because there are cameras in the courtroom, which is very rare in Minnesota. So jurors are being brought in. They're sitting behind Plexiglass, and they're being questioned one at a time, sometimes for close to an hour each. They're being kept off-camera. So except for the two reporters rotating in and out of the courtroom, we're only hearing their voices. And they can be dismissed for a number of reasons. Either the judge can dismiss them, or the prosecution or the defense can. The prosecution can strike up to nine - gets up to nine strikes, and the defense gets up to 15. And what's very clear from this first day is that this is playing out as a very slow, deliberative process.

SHAPIRO: And what did you learn today about what the lawyers on each side seem to be looking for in potential jurors?

FLORIDO: Well, the goal in seating any jury is to find an impartial jury - right? - and so someone who can set aside preconceived ideas or opinions and decide a case based only on the evidence. And in such a high-profile, emotional case, that's going to be a challenge here. And as you might expect, one thing that both sides seem to be very attuned to and became very clear today is the role of race. These jurors are being questioned on their views on things like Black Lives Matter, the racial justice protests. Listen to this question that Derek Chauvin's attorney Eric Nelson asked one potential juror.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC NELSON: With respect to Black Lives Matter, you indicated that you viewed that organization in a somewhat favorable light. And with respect to Blue Lives Matter, you indicated that it was somewhat unfavorable in your opinion.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah. I don't love the Black Lives Matter organization. I do support the message that every life should matter equally. I don't believe that the organization Black Lives Matter necessarily stands for that. I do think that, you know, the phrase and the movement stand for that.

FLORIDO: Their exchange went on for a while there. That man was ultimately chosen for the jury. There was also a moment today, because the racial makeup of the jury is going to be very important, when the prosecution took issue with the fact that the first two people the defense dismissed were Latinos. The judge ruled that that was just a coincidence, but it spoke to the importance of that issue here.

SHAPIRO: Race is so clearly critical to this trial, and so is policing. Are jurors - are lawyers, rather, working to find out how potential jurors view the police here?

FLORIDO: Absolutely. These lawyers have a lot of information about these prospective jurors already, even before they set foot in the courtroom, because of these questionnaires that were sent out beforehand. So listen to how this lawyer for the state - for the prosecution - his name is Steve Schleicher. Listen to how he asked a potential juror about one of his answers on that questionnaire.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE SCHLEICHER: You said you strongly agreed that because law enforcement officers have such dangerous jobs that it's not right to second-guess the decisions that they make while on duty.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I just feel that in the vast majority of cases, they've got to make split-second decisions, and they make those.

FLORIDO: That man - as you might imagine, he was dismissed by the prosecution. It seemed clear that they were concerned that he may be too police-friendly.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, what kind of a timeline are we looking at here?

FLORIDO: Well, up to three weeks have been set aside for jury selection. It's a slow process. By the end of the day today, they had selected three jurors. They need 12-plus for alternates, so they have set aside a good chunk of time. After that, opening arguments in the trial are expected to begin March 29.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Adrian Florido in Minneapolis.

Thank you.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.