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George Floyd family ‘disappointed’ only one relative allowed in court for Chauvin trial, lawyers say

Relatives of George Floyd are “understandably disappointed” after a judge ruled that only one family member will be allowed in the courtroom during the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer charged in Floyd’s death, family attorneys said Tuesday.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill issued an order Monday detailing how many spectators will be allowed in the courtroom during the trial of Derek Chauvin, including one member of the Floyd family and one member of the Chauvin family. Different family members may rotate through that position throughout the trial if they have appropriate credentials, according to the order.

Attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said in a statement that the family is looking forward to the trial as a “critical milestone on the path to justice and a step toward closure in this dark chapter of their lives.”

“This has been a deeply painful and emotional year for every member of the Floyd family, many of whom intended to be in the courtroom to witness this trial,” the statement said. “While they understand the judge’s reasons to limit attendance in the courtroom, the family is understandably disappointed by this ruling.”

Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, was killed May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pinned his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. All four officers involved were fired.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin March 8 in Chauvin’s trial on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. The three other former officers – Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. They are scheduled for trial in August.

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But it is still unclear exactly what charges Chauvin may face. An appeals court is considering a request by prosecutors to reinstate a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin. According to Minnesota law, third-degree murder involves “perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind.” 

Chauvin was charged in May with multiple counts including third-degree murder, but Cahill dismissed the count in October, ruling that the state law applies only when a defendant has put multiple people in danger and someone dies, not when the focus throughout is only on one person.

Prosecutors made the request in the Chauvin case after the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in a separate case last month to uphold the third-degree murder conviction of former Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor for the 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. The court ruled in Noor’s case that a third-degree murder conviction can be sustained even if the action that caused a death was directed at one person.

The three-judge panel that heard oral arguments Monday in Chauvin’s case said it would issue an expedited decision as soon as possible given the upcoming trial. Chauvin has the option of appealing the Appeal’s Court decision to the state Supreme Court and delaying the start of the trial.

Meanwhile, hours after the appeals court hearing Monday, the Minnesota Supreme Court said it will review the third-degree murder conviction in the Noor case, starting in June. A Supreme Court ruling that Noor should not have been convicted of third-degree murder would be a complication for any reinstatement of those charges against Chauvin, since it relies on the Noor precedent.

As the start of the Chauvin trial next week looms, city officials are preparing plans to prevent unrest like the protests that gripped Minneapolis after Floyd’s death in May and spread to cities across the country. National Guard troops and hundreds of law enforcements officers are expected to converge on the city, the courthouse has been surrounded with barbed wire and concrete barriers and streets are being closed ahead of the trial.

Cahill’s order regarding the Floyd family’s single seat in the trial came the same day officials canceled a plan to hire social media influencers to share messages approved by the city and dispel misinformation online during the trial.

The city faced backlash and mockery online over the plan to pay six influencers $2,000 to share the information. The idea was part of a $1.2 million community engagement and communication plan for the Chauvin trial that city council members approved Friday.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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