The defense attorney for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Tuesday requested a new trial after Chauvin was convicted in April of second-degree murder and other charges in the death of George Floyd.
Attorney Eric J. Nelson says in the motion that Chauvin was denied a fair trial for reasons including “prosecutorial and jury misconduct; errors of law at trial,” and that the resulting jury’s verdict was “contrary to law.”
Chauvin, who is white, was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the Black man said he couldn’t breathe and went motionless.
Tuesday’s motion, an expected development in the case, argues a number of reasons would justify a new trial. Among the most anticipated: that Judge Peter Cahill should not have denied the defense’s request to change the venue of the trial.
During the trial’s jury selection, Cahill said he wouldn’t delay or move Chauvin’s trial over concerns that a $27 million settlement for Floyd’s family could taint the jury pool.
Nelson’s Tuesday filing also asked the judge to impeach the verdict on the grounds that the jury committed misconduct, felt pressured, and/or failed to adhere to jury instructions, though the filing did not include details about that assertion. To impeach a verdict is to question its validity.
Mary Moriarty, the former chief public defender of Minnesota’s Hennepin County, said the motion is common and that nearly all of the arguments raised were previously brought up during the trial. Attorneys frequently do so in order to preserve potential issues for an appeal.
Requesting a new trial can be an “intermediary step” for criminal defendants in addition to filing an appeal, according to BK Law Group.
In the filing, Nelson also requested a hearing to examine jury misconduct.
Tuesday’s motion did not mention recent reports that juror Brandon Mitchell participated in an Aug. 28 march in Washington, D.C., to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., but Moriarty believes that may be one reason for the request. Mitchell was photographed wearing a t-shirt that framed a picture of Martin Luther King with the words “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” and “BLM.”
Mitchell, like all jurors, filled out a questionnaire regarding his viewpoint on issues like BLM and was also asked about it during jury selection.
Nelson repeatedly asked Cahill during the course of the trial to sequester the jury due to the immense amount of public interest in the case, and he specifically brought up Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ comment urging protesters to “get more confrontational” if Chauvin isn’t convicted, which was made prior to the start of deliberations.
The motion says it resulted in “jury intimidation and potential fear of retribution among jurors.”
“I think he (Nelson) wants a very broad inquiry (but) the judge is not going to do that. I can pretty much guarantee that,” Moriarty said.
Moriarty said one reason for the request may also be to get potential issues of juror misconduct into the court record, because that is what an appeals court would solely reference in their review of potential issues that would demand a new case.
Chauvin is scheduled to be sentenced in June. Minnesota’s attorney general last week filed paperwork asking that Chauvin be given a more severe prison sentence in the case, arguing that the former Minneapolis police officer inflicted torturous deadly methods as Floyd pleaded for his life.
“Mr. Floyd was treated with particular cruelty. … Defendant continued to maintain his position atop Mr. Floyd even as Mr. Floyd cried out that he was in pain, even as Mr. Floyd exclaimed 27 times that he could not breathe, and even as Mr. Floyd said that Defendant’s actions were killing him,” Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison said. He added that Chauvin stayed in position as Floyd cried out for his mother, stopped speaking and lost consciousness.
Prosecutors also wrote that Chauvin’s actions “inflicted gratuitous pain” and psychological distress not just on Floyd but on the civilian bystanders who they argued will be haunted by the memory of what they saw.
Four of the people in the crowd watching Floyd die were minors, the court filing said.
Contributing: Mike James; The Associated Press