The trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer accused of killing George Floyd in Minneapolis last year, is scheduled to begin Monday despite a late court ruling that added another charge to the indictment.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Friday ruled that the jury should also consider whether Chauvin should be convicted of third degree murder, carrying a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.
Chauvin was initially charged with third degree murder, but following a public outcry, prosecutors substituted the more serious offense of second degree murder, which carries a maximum jail term of 40 years and second degree manslaughter.
Prosecutors’ decision to reinstate the third degree murder charge was to ensure jurors had “all options” to hold Chauvin accountable for Mr. Floyd’s death, said Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney. who advised Mr. Floyd’s family,
Chauvin is one of four officers threatened with trial for Mr. Floyd’s death.
Three others are accused of having aided and encouraged Chauvin.
The death of Mr Floyd, 46, sparked riots across the United States after cellphone images were broadcast showing Chauvin, a white policeman, kneeling on his neck.
Mr. Floyd’s plea “I can’t breathe” was echoed by tens of thousands of protesters as it was seen as a symbol of the brutality inflicted by some police officers on African Americans.
His death became a central issue in the presidential election with Joe Biden offering his condolences to his grieving family and calling for racial justice, while Donald Trump focused on the wave of destruction that accompanied the protests.
Last week, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in Washington passed the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” which, among other things, would prohibit the use of strangles and facilitate the legal liability of officers for misconduct.
The bill, which has yet to clear the Senate, was hailed by Mr Biden, who hailed what he called “a landmark law for police reform.”
Prior to trial, security was tightened in Minneapolis, with the deployment of approximately 2,000 National Guard members and 1,100 police officers.
Offices and buildings were also closed as a precaution.
The heavy police presence has led to accusations that Minneapolis is emerging as a “police state” at a time when a coalition of 17 militant groups plans to mount a peaceful protest during the trial.
Tensions mounted in the city after a fatal shooting near “George Floyd Square”, a crossroads which serves as a memorial to Mr. Floyd, on Saturday. The circumstances surrounding the incident remain unclear.
The level of security is such that the jurors will remain anonymous, being designated by their number rather than by name.
It is expected that it could take up to three weeks to choose a jury of 12 and four alternates.
Prospective jurors were asked to fill out questionnaires detailing their age, occupation, marital status, opinions about the police and the Black Lives Matter movement.
They were also asked to disclose what they read and their favorite TV channel.
Despite the late intervention by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Chauvin’s trial is expected to begin Monday with jury selection, Mr. Crump said.
“George Floyd’s family, as the victims that I represent, have been informed that they have every intention of moving the trial forward,” he told Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation.
Mr Crump said the family had urged protesters to avoid violence.
“Their message is to thank you for taking a stand and exercising your First Amendment rights, but for doing so in a peaceful manner. I know that Attorney General Keith Ellison, the first African American Attorney General in the ‘State of Minnesota, will pursue this matter. Zealously. “