Derek Chauvin again charged with third-degree murder after judge reinstates count

Derek Chauvin again charged with third-degree murder after judge reinstates count

Fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will again face an additional count of third-degree murder in the death of George Floyd after the judge in his case reinstated the charge Thursday.

Judge Peter Cahill’s ruling followed a series of appellate decisions that revived the count before jury selection was to resume.

The reinstatement came after the state Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a request by Chauvin’s defense to review a Court of Appeals ruling that said the judge improperly denied prosecutors’ push for reviving third-degree murder. Cahill dismissed the count last fall.

Cahill said Thursday that he is now bound by the ruling, which stems from an earlier decision involving the conviction of ex-Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, which declared that third-degree murder can be applied to acts directed toward a single person.

“I am granting the motion because although these cases are factually different — that is Noor and the case before us — I don’t think there is a factual difference that denies the motion to reinstate,” Cahill said.

“When the intent is directed at a single person, then third-degree murder may apply,” the judge continued. “Single acts directed at a single person fall within the gambit of third-degree … accordingly, I am bound by that.”

Attorney General Keith Ellison, in a statement, expressed satisfaction with the restored count. “The charge of third-degree murder, in addition to manslaughter and felony murder, reflects the gravity of the allegations against Mr. Chauvin,” Ellison said. “We look forward to presenting all three charges to the jury.”

Adding third-degree murder to Chauvin’s case gives jurors the opportunity to convict him on a count sandwiched in between the current charges — second-degree murder above and manslaughter below.

Noor’s third-degree murder conviction led to his 12-year prison sentence for the 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who called 911 about a possible rape behind her home. Noor was startled when Damond approached his squad and he shot her.

Before Cahill ruled, defense attorney Eric Nelson argued that Chauvin’s case is different from Noor’s and similar cases because there was no inherently dangerous factor, such as a gun.

“This is not a factually similar case, this is a distinguishable case,” Nelson said. “Factually, there is no instrumentality here other than Mr. Chauvin’s knee, which is not inherently dangerous.”

Jury selection resumed for a third day Thursday, and a sixth member was added in the morning. He joins the others tasked with rendering a verdict in the murder trial of Chauvin, charged with killing Floyd last spring, while he was in police detention under Chauvin’s knee for more than 9 minutes outside a south Minneapolis convenience store.

The newest juror, a man who is married, is a route driver for an unspecified business who acknowledged that missing work for a month would be a financial burden, but one he could endure, saying, “If I am a good fit and can help, I’m OK.”

As for the case itself, the man said he’s seen the viral arrest video in its entirety and in news reports.

Obviously, if [Floyd] would have complied, that wouldn’t have happened,” he said, but added that “there is more that happened than just that. … I am willing to see all the evidence and witnesses.”

The next candidate also saw the same video and said in her questionnaire that she cried after viewing it, and in court Thursday said more than once that “you can’t unsee it.”

She was pressed on whether should could put aside her opinion about what she saw and consider all the evidence in the case. She responded, “I will try my best.”

The judge stepped in and asked whether it would be difficult for her to accept Chauvin’s right to be presumed innocent before any evidence is presented. “I do,” she said.

With that, Cahill dismissed her over the prosecution’s objections and noted, “There are some legitimate concerns that you have that I want to honor.”

The prosecution used a strike to dismiss the morning’s final prospective juror. The suburban businessman expressed largely positive views about police. He said he had “neutral” feelings about Chauvin and Floyd because he had never met either one of them, and that he was shocked by the sometimes destructive civil unrest in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.

Questioned in writing about the Black Lives Matter movement, he said it “has been involved in too much destruction in the city.” Elaborating in court, he said he was referencing “the vandalism of the city and seeking the letters BLM, [then added] I’m not accusing the actual organization of actually doing it.”

Commenting on whether the criminal justice system treats certain racial groups unfairly, he said, “I’ve never really been involved with the police. I don’t see it.”

On Wednesday, two more people were seated during the second day of jury selection, joining three from the previous day.

As it stood heading into Thursday, a woman of color, a Black man and three white men have been selected to judge a former white officer implicated in the death of a Black suspect.

Prospective jurors have been questioned about their knowledge of the case since Floyd’s death on May 25, their views on race and criminal justice, their opinions about police and Chauvin in particular, among other topics.

Once there are 14 jurors — two of them will be dismissed as alternates once deliberations start — the trial will turn to opening statements, which are scheduled for March 29.

Star Tribune staff writers Chao Xiong and Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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