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Chauvin Trial: Judge Cahill Warned of ‘Tainted Jury Pool’ Several Months Ago

Judge Cahill’s warning has gone largely unheeded. Is this case headed for a mistrial?

Judge Peter Cahill, masked, presiding of the trial.
IMAGE: A masked Judge Peter Cahill presiding over the trial. Follow our LIVE trial coverage

(MINNEAPOLIS, MN) – As jury selection in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin finishes its fourth day in the televised courtroom, viewers of this high-profile case are beginning to see just how politicized it has become. Even the trial’s presiding Judge Peter Cahill saw this coming – having warned public officials about it months ago.

Back in June of 2020, Courthouse News reported that at a hearing for the officers charged in George Floyd’s death, which included Chauvin, Judge Cahill “warned state prosecutors not to allow further public comment on the case before it goes to trial.”

Judge Cahill was specific in his admonishment at the time, telling Asst. Attorney General Matthew Frank, who is now part of the state’s prosecution team in the Chauvin case, that “recent statements by Governor Tim Walz, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arrrodondo, Floyd family attorney Ben Crump and others risked tainting a jury pool and could result in a gag order or change of venue.”

IMAGE: Attorney General Keith Ellison, pictured above standing up, though rarely seen on camera in the courtroom, leads the state’s prosecution team.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the state’s top cop, pushed hard to get the third-degree murder charge re-instated. He leads the prosecution’s case against Chauvin and also promised back in June of 2020 to ‘get justice’ for George Floyd.

In the months leading up to jury selection, the pool of potential jurors in this case have had ample opportunity to marinate in the media coverage, while very few media outlets question the motives behind everything from sweeping new police reform legislation to multimillion dollar civil suits.

The jury pool has now lived through almost a year of 24/7 media coverage of social justice movements all across America – for many, locked in their homes and ‘sequestered by COVID’ – and George Floyd’s death remains a big part of this narrative.

With the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020” passing the U.S. House of Representatives and now being considered by the Senate, media coverage of police reforms and how it ‘converges’ with the events of the trial has already reached a fever pitch, including in this recent MSNBC report: “How can we prevent the next George Floyd? Prevent the next Derek Chauvin”.

And this just in from earlier today, another media impression for this unsequestered jury pool to process:

Now, the city of Minneapolis has succumbed to the political pressure of social justice movements and approved a ‘record-breaking’ financial settlement with Floyd’s family. The timing of such a civil suit judgment seems conspicuous and inverted, since these types of civil actions are typically resolved after the criminal trial.

It will be difficult for the media to avoid portraying the civil settlement’s ‘largest payment in history’ as anything other than evidence of a victory for both George Floyd’s legacy and the state’s case against Chauvin – assuming guilt before the trial officially begins and laden with race-fueled, hate crime type connotations.

Are all the histrionics of this case to date just a prelude to the inevitable? A mistrial?

It appears that Judge Cahill’s warning from several months ago about the potential for a tainted jury pool in this case has gone largely unheeded.

More from Courthouse News

Arradondo called Floyd’s death a murder for the first time in a statement last week, a characterization Walz made much earlier. Crump leaked the planned trial date of March 8 to local press last week. That news was confirmed when Cahill tentatively set that date Monday, with the caveat that if the four cases are not joined he would prioritize those of Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao, who are still in custody.

“From this day forward, everyone has had their warning, and if they don’t abide by the court’s instructions, it will be the court’s gag order, and possibly a change of venue,” the judge said. “The state has met its obligations, I think, with regard to people they control in pretrial publicity coverage, and they will advise those over whom they have influence, but not control.”

Cahill cited similar reasons when he denied the officers’ motion to allow audio and video coverage inside the courtroom for pretrial proceedings on Friday. Defense attorneys Earl Gray, Thomas Plunkett, Eric Nelson and Robert Paule had requested that video coverage be allowed, arguing that in a case where public officials from the police chief to the governor had made statements decrying their clients, camera access to courtrooms could help them present a different narrative.

“These are people who are involved in the investigation, in the prosecution, and they’ve been making public comments,” said Paule, who represents Thao. “My client has a constitutional right to a fair trial, but there are also ethical considerations here.”

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READ MORE CHAUVIN TRIAL NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Chauvin Trial Files




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