An almost all-white jury has been selected in just one day in the federal trial of the three police officers charged in connection to the murder of George Floyd, as the judge told the court the case has “absolutely nothing” to do with race.
The 12 jurors picked to deliberate in the federal case against former Minneapolis Police officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao appear to include 11 white people and one person of Asian descent.
Among the six alternates, five jurors appear to be white and one person of Asian descent.
There appears to be no Black people on the jury that will decide whether the three officers violated Black father-of-five Mr Floyd’s civil rights during the deadly arrest that sparked racial justice protests across the globe and shone a spotlight on police brutality and systemic racism in America.
Mr Floyd died when white officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest over a suspected $20 counterfeit bill in Minneapolis on Memorial Day 2020, as he begged for air saying “I can’t breathe”.
Mr Kueng, Mr Lane and Mr Thao were also involved in the arrest and are standing trial on charges that they violated the Black man’s civil rights by failing to provide him medical care and by failing to intervene during his murder.
Mr Kueng, who is Black, knelt on Mr Floyd’s back. Mr Lane, who is white, held down his legs.
Mr Thao, who is of Asian descent, held back bystanders and stopped them from intervening.
One Black potential juror was dismissed on Thursday after he questioned whether he could be impartial in the case “due to my colour”.
US District Judge Paul Magnuson sought to reassure the juror that race is not a factor in the case against the three officers.
“There is absolutely nothing about the subject of religion, race or ethnicity that’s involved in this case,” he said.
Legal expert Joe Daly, an emeritus professor at Mitchell Hamline Law School, said that the judge’s comments were technically correct “in the framework of the law and facts” because the charges do not accuse the officers of targeting Mr Floyd because of his race.
However, he said that the case “has almost everything to do with race”.
“It has to do with what we know about how police enforce minor crimes against African Americans, how police have acted toward African Americans, minority people,” he said.
Local defence attorney Mike Brandt also said the case “had everything to do with race” and that a white jury may benefit the defence.
It’s a marked difference from the jury make-up in Chauvin’s state trial back in April, where a panel of six white and six non-white jurors convicted him of Mr Floyd’s murder.
This panel was more reflective of the Minneapolis’ population which is 64 percent white, according to the most recent US Census data.
The jury for the federal trial is made up of people from across the entire state of Minnesota, which has a less diverse population with 78 percent of people being white.
The speed of jury selection is also vastly different to that seen at Chauvin’s state trial.
The full jury was picked on the first day of the trial on Thursday while jury selection lasted more than two weeks in Chauvin’s case.
Opening statements are now scheduled to begin on Monday.
All three former officers are charged with one count of depriving Mr Floyd of his civil rights by failing to provide him with medical care and showing a “deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs”.
Mr Thao and Mr Kueng are also charged with one count of depriving Mr Floyd of his civil rights by failing to intervene to stop Chauvin’s unreasonable use of force.
The indictment says the two officers were “aware” that Chauvin was holding his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed and not resisting and that he continued to hold him down even after he became unresponsive.
Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Mr Floyd’s death.
It is not clear why Mr Lane is charged with just the one count when the other two are also charged with failing to intervene to stop Chauvin’s use of force.
However, there is evidence that Mr Lane asked Chauvin twice whether they should roll Mr Floyd on his side.
Lawyers for the family of Mr Floyd said in a statement that the defendants “directly contributed to (Mr Floyd’s) death and failed to intervene to stop the senseless murder”.
Chauvin had been scheduled to stand trial together with the three officers but pleaded guilty to the federal charges in a plea agreement in December.
The plea deal means he must serve a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 25 years in prison and will be moved to a federal prison. He was sentenced to 22-and-a-half years in prison at his state trial and is currently being held in Minnesota’s maximum security state facility.
Mr Kueng, Mr Lane and Mr Thao have pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.
If convicted, they each face up to life in prison or even the death penalty on the charges although it is unlikely they will receive such severe penalties.
The three officers are also due to stand trial together in June on state charges of aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
Associated Press contributed to this report
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