Who are the leading prosecution and defence attorneys in Derek Chauvin trial?

Death of George Floyd sparked months of racial justice protests

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Tuesday 20 April 2021 22:55 BST
Watch live as trial of George Floyd’s alleged killer Derek Chauvin begins

George Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police, which was captured in shocking video, unleashed months of racial justice protests across the United States.

Now former police officer Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee onto Mr Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, has been convicted of his murder.

Deciding the case was a jury of nine women and six men, with nine identified as white, four Black, and two of mixed race, ranging in age from 20s to 60s.

Mr Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

The high-profile prosecution was led by the state’s attorney general Keith Ellison.

Minnesota governor Tim Walz appointed Mr Ellison to handle the prosecution just days after the killing when lawmakers expressed a lack of confidence in the Hennepin County prosecutor.

“Unfortunately, our constituents, especially constituents of colour, have lost faith in the ability of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to fairly and impartially investigate and prosecute these cases,” stated a letter from 10 members representing Minneapolis in the state House of Representatives.

Mr Ellison, a former congressman, is the first African American and first Muslim to hold the office of attorney general in the state.

During the pre-trial hearings Mr Ellison was represented by his team of lawyers, some of whom are working the case on a pro bono basis, meaning they will not be paid.

The prosecution was led by the head of Minnesota’s criminal division, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank.

Outside lawyers include Steven Schleicher, a former federal prosecutor who handled jury selection for the prosecution. He delivered the prosecution’s closing argument on Monday 19 April.

Mr Schleicher, who is now a partner an Maslon LLP, prosecuted the case of Danny Heinrich, who admitted in 2016 to the abduction, sexual assault and killing of Jacob Wetterling in 1989.

Jerry Blackwell, one of the founders of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, and the CEO of Blackwell Burke, is assisting the prosecution team without charge.

Mr Blackwell handled the prosecution’s opening arguments in the case late last month.

In private practice he has represented corporations including Walmart, 3M Company and General Mills.

Last June he won a posthumous pardon for Max Mason, a Black circus worker wrongly convicted of rape in 1920.

The prosecution team also includes former acting US Solicitor General Neal Katyal, who is now a partner at Hogan Lovells in Washington DC.

Mr Chauvin’s defence team has been paid for by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, as although he and three other officers were fired after Mr Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis Police Department still has membership.

The Association has a 12-member group of criminal defence lawyers who take its cases.

Mr Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, is a managing partner at Halberg Criminal Defense, and has been doing Association cases since 2015.

The judge in the case is Peter Cahill, who was appointed to the bench in 2007 and before that had run the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office for 10 years and also had his own private law practice.

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