The court asked for the verdict against Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd to be set aside

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ST. PAUL, Minor — A lawyer for Derek Chauvin on Wednesday asked an appeals court to quash the former Minneapolis police officer’s convictions for the murder of George Floyd, arguing that legal and procedural errors deprived him of a fair trial.

Floyd died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, pinned the black man to the ground with his knee on the back of his neck for 9 1/2 minutes. A bystander video captured Floyd’s fading cries of “I can’t breathe”. Floyd’s death sparked protests around the world and forced a national reckoning with police brutality and racism.

Chauvin’s attorney, William Mohrman, told a three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals that the trial judge should have moved the case out of Minneapolis because of extensive publicity for the trial and unprecedented security measures due to protest fears.

“The main issue in this appeal is whether a criminal defendant can receive a fair trial in accordance with constitutional requirements in a courthouse surrounded by concrete blocks, barbed wire, two armored personnel carriers and a squad of National Guard troops, all or who are there for one purpose: in case the jury acquits the defendant,” Mohrman said.

But Neal Katyal, a state special attorney, said Chauvin “has been given one of the most transparent and thorough trials in the history of our country. … Chauvin’s many arguments before this court don’t come close to justifying reversal.”

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Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill sentenced Chauvin to 22 1/2 years after jurors found him guilty of second degree murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. Chauvin later pleaded guilty to a separate federal civil rights charge and was sentenced to 21 years in prison, which he is now serving in Arizona, concurrent with his state sentence.

“Judge Cahill has conducted this process with tremendous care, and even if Chauvin could identify a minor error, each error is harmless,” said Katyal. “Evidence of Chauvin’s guilt was videotaped for the world to see.”

Appeals Judge Peter Reyes said Wednesday the court would rule within 90 days. Chauvin did not attend the oral arguments, but Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who assembled the prosecution team, sat in the front row.

Even if Chauvin wins his appeal, his federal sentence will keep him in prison longer than his state sentence likely would because he would be eligible for parole earlier in the state system.

Mike Brandt, a Minneapolis attorney who follows the cases arising from Floyd’s murder, said an appeals victory “would be functionally meaningless” and that Chauvin’s time in prison is “pretty well set in stone” given his federal punishment.

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Mohrman often pursues conservative goals, including challenging President Joe Biden’s election victory and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Mohrman argued in his briefing that pre-trial publicity was more extensive than any other trial in Minnesota history, and that the judge should have moved the trial and sequestered the jury. Mohrman wrote that the publicity and rioting, the city’s $27 million settlement with Floyd’s family announced during jury selection, the turmoil over a police killing in a Minneapolis suburb during jury selection and the closing of the courthouse, were just some of the factors. detract from Chauvin’s chance of a fair trial.

Much of Wednesday’s questioning centered on a juror participating in a civil rights event commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, a few months after Floyd’s death. Only after the trial did the juror reveal that he had been there.

He was questioned during jury selection about whether he had participated in demonstrations or marches “in Minneapolis” against police brutality following Floyd’s death. But Chauvin’s original attorney, Eric Nelson, did not ask if he had participated in marches elsewhere.

Mohrman argued that Cahill should have held a hearing after the revelation to determine whether the juror’s secrecy constituted misconduct. He said the appeals court would have to return the case to Cahill for a hearing on that issue – a request Cahill had rejected.

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Reyes said judges have “fairly wide discretion” in conducting trials, and that Nelson questioned the juror and could have slapped him but didn’t. Reyes said case law places the burden of asking the right questions on the defense.

Katyal told the judges that the juror answered the questions accurately and repeatedly insisted that he could make an impartial judgment. He said the defense failed to use three of her compelling attacks, which he called an indication of jury satisfaction.

In their briefing, prosecutors said the publicity for the trial had covered up the state, making it pointless to change venues. They also said that Cahill had taken sufficient measures to protect the jurors from outside influences so that it was not necessary to segregate them for deliberations.

Other disputes in the appeal include whether it was legal to convict Chauvin of third-degree murder, and whether Cahill was justified in exceeding the 12 1/2 years recommended under state sentencing guidelines.

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