Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Reflections a Week Later on Derek Chauvin's Conviction: Can a Trial be Simultaneously Fair and Unfair
The jury took slightly over 10 hours to convict Derek Chauvin on all three counts. What took so long? The video was clear. No extenuating circumstances. No ambiguity. Almost everyone, including hardened police officers, had the same reaction of outrage when they saw the video the first time. George Floyd was murdered. The prosecution tied up every loose end, dotting all the “I’s” and crossing all the ‘T’s.” No avenue was left for the defense. Was George Floyd on a lethal level of drugs which could result in asphyxiation? The experts split, which created a question of fact for the jury. Not that it mattered. Even if George Floyd was “Dead Man Walking,” Officer Derek Chauvin accelerated his death. A fact, which would compound Chauvin’s guilt, was not raised by the prosecution. The story is that George Floyd and Derek Chauvin unpleasantly crossed paths when working security at a Minneapolis bar. If true, Officer Chauvin acted with malicious intent. That was a fair trial with a clear result. Yet the conviction is reversible. Holding the trial in Minneapolis was fundamentally unfair. Derek Chauvin’s lawyers, as is normal, will file appeals. Most of the appellate arguments will fail, as is often the case. Judges are human. They have emotions. They know Derek Chauvin is guilty in fact. However, Judge David Cahill made critical, highly prejudicial mistakes at the beginning. First, he did not grant a change of venue. Second, he did not sequester the jury. The trial never should have been held in Minneapolis. The case cried out for a change of venue. Dr. Sam Sheppard was convicted of the 1954 murder of his wife. The trial was a trial by media with the Cleveland Plain dealer leading the parade. One of its frontpage headlines was “Why isn’t Sam Sheppard in Jail.” A drumbeat of inflammatory, salacious articles appeared in the media. Accusations of adultery were published the first day of the trial. The Supreme Court held a fair trial was impossible under the carnival atmosphere and bias of the trial judge. A change of venue should have been granted in the first trial. Dr. Sheppard was acquitted at the retrial, after having spent 10 years in prison. The new judge called the first trial “a mockery of justice.” The Sam Sheppard case inspired a great TV series and a movie, The Fugitive. Minneapolis did not have a carnival atmosphere. It had murderous riots. Minneapolis blew after the video was released – three day s of riots, looting arson over three days with 2 deaths, 1500 properties lost or damaged, and $500 million in damages. And a police station burned. Everyone in Minneapolis knew it. America burnt: Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Portland, St. Louis, Seattle, Washington, D.C. The national toll was 18 deaths and about $2 billion in damages. The Minneapolis City Council voted to defund the police. The city announced during jury selection that it reached a record setting $27 million settlement with the Floyd Family. That was a $27 million highly prejudicial statement of guilt. Chauvin’s attorney asked for a delay when the settlement was released. Judge Cahill refused. He refused to sequester the juror, thereby allowing them to be arrive of the outside developments. They were admonished to avoid newspaper, TV, radio and the internet. Good luck with that. Then came Officer Kim Potter fatally shooting Dante Wright in neighboring Brooklyn Center near the end of the trial. More riots and looting, six days worth and peaceful protests. The jurors had to know. The National Guard was called in: 3,000 National Guard, 1,100 law enforcement. Minneapolis fortified before the jury deliberations. The jurors knew. An acquittal would have ignited another paroxysm of violence, riots, looting and arson. They knew the “house” of a defense witness was vandalized. Barry Brood testified for Chauvin. His Santa Rosa, California “home” was vandalized on Saturday morning, April 17. It wasn’t Brood’s current home. He hadn’t lived there in years. The jury probably knew. The jurors could not have been impartial under the circumstances. Representative Maxime Waters showed up in Brooklyn Center the night before the Chauvin jury verdict. She poured fuel on the fires: I hope we get a verdict that says, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty, and if we don’t, we cannot go away, we’ve got to get more confrontational, we’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.” She said to reporters: “If nothing does not happen, then we know that we got to not only stay in the street, but we have got to fight for justice.” The jurors undoubtedly knew of the widespread predictions of more violence if an acquittal verdict was returned. Judge Cahill the next morning in the jury’s absence said in open court: that her words may have given “something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.” He added: “I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and the judicial branch and our function.” President Biden said the morning of the jury verdict that he was “praying” for the jury to reach “the right verdict,” adding the evidence was “overwhelming.” We know Derek Chauvin was guilty in fact. We also know holding the trial in Minneapolis was inherently unfair. His trial was simultaneously fair and unfair. One final comment. Derek Chauvin should not have been a police officer, much less a training officer. He had a history with 18 complaints filed against. Derek Chauvin was a ticking time bomb ready to explode. Other Derek Chauvins are on other police forces. Contracts between the governments and police unions and due process protect the officers in their employment. Bad cops remain on the force until the next George Floyd tragedy.