A Minneapolis judge planned to begin screening jurors on Tuesday in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former policeman facing criminal charges for his role in the death of George Floyd during an arrest that caused an outcry around the world.
The trial is seen as a landmark case on police violence against Black people in the United States, a country where police officers are rarely found to be criminally responsible for killing civilians.
The trial on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter had been scheduled to begin on Monday. But Judge Peter Cahill of the Hennepin County district court was stymied by an 11th-hour ruling by the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Friday that ordered him to reconsider the request by prosecutors to reinstate a third charge of third-degree murder.
Chauvin's lawyers are asking the state Supreme Court to prevent the additional charge being applied.
Prosecutors in the Minnesota attorney general's office told the court they do not think the trial can start until the appeal issues have been cleared up, and said they would seek an order from a higher court delaying it.
"Unless the Court of Appeals tells me otherwise, we're going to keep going," the judge said on Monday.
Chauvin, 44, would face up to 40 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge.
Chauvin, who is white, and three other police officers were fired the day after the deadly arrest on May 25 on suspicion that Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes at the Cup Foods grocery store.
Chauvin was released from jail on a $1 million bond last October and will be tried in a courtroom in the Hennepin County Government Center, a tower in downtown Minneapolis now ringed with barbed-wire fencing and concrete barricades for fear of disruption by protesters.
Hundreds of anti-racism demonstrators chanted in the streets around the courthouse on Monday, blocking traffic. A small number of soldiers called in from the Minnesota National Guard watched from a distance.
The judge has set aside three weeks for jury selection alone, mindful of the difficulties finding impartial Minneapolitans in a case that has convulsed the nation. The image of the victim — a selfie of Floyd smiling faintly — has become an international icon of racial justice.The court mailed prospective jurors an unusually detailed 16-page questionnaire last year asking them what they know about Floyd's death, and asking for their opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement.