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Jury Selection For Chauvin Trial Delayed

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's arguably the country's most anticipated trial, the murder case against Derek Chauvin. He's the white former police officer filmed pinning George Floyd's neck to the ground for more than eight minutes before Floyd, a Black man, died. Court proceedings began today, but jury selection was delayed until at least tomorrow. NPR's Leila Fadel is covering the trial in Minneapolis and joins us now.

Hi, Leila.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Hi.

SHAPIRO: Begin by explaining why the delay. What happened?

FADEL: So Chauvin is facing second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges, but last Friday, a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals threw the start of this trial in flux because the state wants to reinstate the charge of third-degree murder against Chauvin And originally, the district court ruled against that. And the appeals court says that the lower court made a mistake. So the state is pushing to delay jury selection and really anything else substantive in the case until they know what charges Chauvin is actually facing. And Chauvin's attorney is appealing the Friday decision. This is Matthew Frank, assistant attorney general, in court today explaining why the state wants the delay.

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MATTHEW FRANK: We are so concerned about proceeding today on an issue that may cause an appeal issue later that could result in the reversal of a conviction.

FADEL: The judge disagreed, but he gave the state a day to seek guidance from the appeals court. And they filed a motion essentially asking the court to stop jury selection in the district court.

SHAPIRO: There has been so much anticipation of this trial - I mean, millions of dollars spent to secure the courthouse, thousands of National Guard troops. What does it feel like being there in Minneapolis right now?

FADEL: Yeah, I mean, buildings are boarded up. The entire government center in downtown Minneapolis where the trial is being held is surrounded by fencing and barbed wire, military-style vehicles, National Guardsmen. And people just want to get through it. And remember, even if jury selection starts tomorrow, it's projected to take about three weeks to select a jury in this case. And it will be hard to find jurors who don't have strong opinions. I mean, that video of George Floyd reignited a movement for Black lives that's being compared to the 1960s civil rights era. The demonstrations spread around the world. And, of course, this is a difficult case to prosecute. And you can see that the state is really worried that any procedural issues might throw a decision in their favor in jeopardy.

SHAPIRO: Given how much security and how much interest in the case there is, have you been able to talk with people? What are folks saying?

FADEL: Yeah, outside, some protesters gathered on different corners in downtown, as close as they could get to this barricaded building. Lisa Kelly was among them. She's an activist, and she says the hardest part about today was figuring out where to gather, where to protest.

LISA KELLY: They spent $30 million building a fortress around the government center to keep us out. And we don't want to go in. We just want the freedom to express ourselves. We want the freedom to live in this city peacefully.

FADEL: And that assumption of violence, she says, is part of the systemic problems she's protesting. She was out today because she and others say she wants to make sure everyone knows Floyd's killing has not been forgotten. She wants a conviction, but she doesn't trust the court, she says. She says it seems almost impossible that she'll get what she wants. A white police officer has never been convicted for the killing of a Black person in Minnesota. It's very rare nationwide. This is Kelly again.

KELLY: For me personally as a Black woman, it's just been - it's been hell these last couple weeks. There's been a knot in my stomach for the last few days leading up to this because I'm not sure we're going to see justice.

FADEL: So the question is, will this case be different?

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Minneapolis.

Thanks, Leila.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.