Chauvin-Trial Judge Refuses to Sequester Jury after Latest Police-Involved Killing

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill presides over the trial of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minn., April 12, 2021 in this courtroom sketch. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

The Derek Chauvin murder trial is winding down amid more unrest.

This morning, Judge Peter Cahill refused a defense motion to sequester the jury. The request came as Minneapolis is again experiencing turmoil over a young black man’s death at the hands of police, after he resisted arrest. This time, as our Brittany Bernstein notes, a thus-far unidentified female police officer shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright to death on Sunday afternoon as he attempted to flee.

Wright, who was reportedly driving a car while accompanied by his girlfriend, was pulled over for an alleged traffic violation by police in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center. During the encounter, in which Wright exited the car, it was discovered that an arrest warrant had been issued for him on charges of carrying a gun without a permit and fleeing from police. As police tried to detain him on Sunday, he allegedly resisted, getting back into his car and attempting to drive away. The unidentified officer shot him.

Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Gannon has explained that the firing of a single shot was a tragic mistake in that the officer actually intended to discharge a taser in order to disable Wright. The car traveled some distance after the shooting, eventually colliding with another vehicle. Wright was pronounced dead at the scene; his companion suffered injuries that were not life threatening, while occupants of the other car were apparently not hurt.

There were violent protests in and around Minneapolis. The coverage of Wright’s killing, coming as Chauvin’s trial in Hennepin County for allegedly killing Floyd is coming to a close, is obviously intensifying the press coverage — even more locally than nationally. That is why Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, made the sequestration motion. The judge decided that the proposal was too drastic. The jury, however, will be admonished in strong terms to avoid media stories about the trial, Wright’s shooting, and the related issues of police brutality and community violence.

In the meantime, the prosecution in Chauvin’s case could wrap up its case this afternoon. This morning, the state called yet another medical expert, cardiologist Jonathan Rich, who testified that Floyd would not have died but for his being extensively restrained by police in the prone position. Dr. Rich echoed Dr. Martin Tobin’s earlier testimony that Floyd died of low oxygen, which gradually caused his heart and lungs to stop functioning.

A highly accomplished cardiac specialist and professor of cardiology at Northwestern, Dr. Rich further opined that Floyd’s life could have been saved had police rolled him over into a sideways position when they observed that he appeared to be passing out. Rich added that Chauvin and the other officers should have begun chest-compressions when it was obvious that Floyd had no pulse, and that the failure to do so for four minutes before emergency medical technicians arrived and began treating Floyd left little to no chance of reviving him. According to the doctor, the literature teaches that the chance of survival diminishes by 10 to 15 percent for every minute CPR is not administered when a person is pulseless.

Prosecutors are expected to call at least one more use-of-force expert, as well as another witness to give a sympathetic portrait of Floyd the man, before resting their case. Nelson is expected to call witnesses for the defense, but has not yet indicated whether Chauvin will testify.

Although things could change depending on what happens in the defense case, it is currently anticipated that summations could occur next Monday. After that, the jury would receive legal instructions from Judge Cahill and then begin deliberations on the two murder counts and one count of manslaughter.

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