A judge on Thursday granted prosecutors’ request to add a third-degree murder count against a former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death, offering jurors an additional option for conviction and resolving an issue that might have delayed his trial for months.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill reinstated the charge after the former officer, Derek Chauvin, failed to get appellate courts to block it. Cahill had earlier rejected the charge as not warranted by the circumstances of Floyd’s death, but an appellate court ruling in an unrelated case established new grounds.
Chauvin already faced second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. Legal experts say the additional charge helps prosecutors by giving jurors another option to find Chauvin guilty of murder.
The dispute over the third-degree murder charge revolved around wording in the law that references an act “eminently dangerous to others.” Cahill’s initial decision to dismiss the charge had noted that Chauvin’s conduct might be construed as not dangerous to anyone but Floyd.
But prosecutors sought to revive the charge after the state’s Court of Appeals recently upheld the third-degree murder conviction of another former Minneapolis police officer in the 2017 killing of an Australian woman. They argued that the ruling established precedent that the charge could be brought even in a case where only a single person is endangered.
Arguments over when precedent from former officer Mohamed Noor’s case took effect went swiftly to the state’s Supreme Court, which on Wednesday said it would not consider Chauvin’s appeal of the matter. Cahill said Thursday that he accepts that precedent is clearly established.
“I feel bound by that and I feel it would be an abuse of discretion not to grant the motion,” he said.
Floyd was declared dead on May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against the Black man’s neck for about nine minutes. Floyd’s death sparked sometimes violent protests in Minneapolis and beyond, leading to a nationwide reckoning on race.
Jury selection resumed Thursday for the third day with a sixth person chosen, a man who described himself as an outgoing soccer fan for whom the prospect of the trial was “kind of exciting.” The pool so far includes five men and one woman. One man is white, but the others’ racial backgrounds have not been disclosed in court.
Two other candidates were dismissed Thursday: a woman who said she “can’t unsee the video” of Chauvin pinning Floyd, and a man who said he has doubts about Black Lives Matter and the way the group pursues its goals.
At least three weeks have been set aside to complete a jury of 12 plus two alternates. Potential jurors’ identities are being protected and they are not shown on livestreamed video of the proceedings.
Chauvin and three other officers were fired. The others face an August trial on aiding and abetting charges. The defence hasn’t said whether Chauvin will testify in his own defence.