MINNEAPOLIS (AP) â€” A judge on Thursday granted prosecutorsâ€™ request to add a third-degree murder charge against the former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floydâ€™s death.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill reinstated the charge after the former officer, Derek Chauvin,Â failed to get appellate courtsÂ to block it. Cahill had earlier rejected the charge as not warranted by the circumstances of Floydâ€™s death, but an appellate court ruling in an unrelated case established new grounds for it.
Chauvin already faced second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. Legal experts say the additional charge helps prosecutors by giving jurors one more option to convict Chauvin of murder.
The dispute over the third-degree murder charge revolved around the conviction of another former Minneapolis police officer in the unrelated killing of an Australian woman. The appeals court recently affirmed Mohamed Noorâ€™s third-degree murder conviction in the 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, and the state used that affirmation to argue that it established new justification for the charge in Chauvinâ€™s case.
Cahill agreed that the precedent has now been established.
â€œI feel bound by that and I feel it would be an abuse of discretion not to grant the motion,â€ he said.
Floyd was declared dead on May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against the Black manâ€™s neck forÂ about nine minutes. Floydâ€™s death sparked sometimesÂ violent protestsÂ in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning on race.
The ruling came ahead of resumption of jury selection Thursday. Five jurors have been seated after just two days of screening by attorneys and the judge, who has set aside at least three weeks to fill the panel.
Attorneys have given considerable attention to the jury poolâ€™s attitudes toward police in the first two days of questioning, trying to determine whether theyâ€™re more inclined to believe testimony from law enforcement over evidence from other witnesses to the fatal confrontation.
The first juror picked Wednesday, a man who works in sales management and grew up in a mostly white part of central Minnesota, acknowledged saying on his written questionnaire that he had a â€œvery favorableâ€ opinion of the Black Lives Matter movement and a â€œsomewhat unfavorableâ€ impression of the Blue Lives Matter countermovement in favor of police, yet â€œsomewhat agreedâ€ that police donâ€™t get the respect they deserve. He said he agrees that there are bad police officers.
â€œAre there good ones? Yes. So I donâ€™t think itâ€™s right to completely blame the entire organization,â€ he told the court under questioning from prosecutor Steve Schleicher.
He also said he would be more inclined to believe an officer over the word of another witness. But he said he could set aside any ideas about the inherent honesty of an officer and evaluate each witness on their own.
The second, a man who works in information technology security, marked â€œstrongly agreeâ€ on a question about whether he believes police in his community make him feel safe. His community wasnâ€™t specified â€” jurors are being drawn from all over Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis and many of its suburbs.
â€œIn my community, I think when there is suspicious activity the police will stop by, they will ask a question,â€ he said. â€œI think that sense of community is all we want right? We want to live in a community where we feel safe regardless of race, color and gender.â€
Schleicher noted that the man also stated in his questionnaire that he strongly disagreed with the concept of â€œdefundingâ€ the police, which has become a political flashpoint locally and across the country in the wake of Floydâ€™s death.
â€œWhile I necessarily might not agree with the police action in some situation, I believe that in order for police to make my community safe they have to have the money,â€ he replied.
The questionnaire explores potential jurorsâ€™ familiarity with the case and their own contacts with police. Their answers have not been made public, and the jurorsâ€™ identities are being kept secret. TheirÂ racial backgrounds often arenâ€™t disclosedÂ in open court.
Chauvin and three other officersÂ were fired. The others face an August trial on aiding and abetting charges. The defense hasnâ€™t said whether Chauvin will testify in his own defense.
Schleicher used a peremptory challenge Wednesday to remove from the panel a woman who has a nephew whoâ€™s a sheriffâ€™s deputy in western Minnesota. She said she was dismayed by the violence that followed Floydâ€™s death.
â€œI personally didnâ€™t see any usefulness to it,â€ she said. â€œI didnâ€™t see anything accomplished by it, except I suppose bring attention to the frustrations of the people involved. But did I see anything useful coming out of the burning of Lake Street and that sort of thing? I did not.â€
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