Opening arguments set to begin in George Floyd murder trial

a group of people holding a sign: Protestors at a 'Justice for George Floyd' march in Saint Paul, Minnesota © Kerem Yucel Protestors at a 'Justice for George Floyd' march in Saint Paul, Minnesota

Opening arguments begin on Monday in the trial of the white police officer accused of killing George Floyd, a Black man whose death was captured on video and touched off protests against racial injustice across the United States and around the world.

a group of people standing in front of a store: Members of George Floyd's family and the family lawyer visiting a memorial at the site where he died © Kerem Yucel Members of George Floyd's family and the family lawyer visiting a memorial at the site where he died

Derek Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, faces murder and manslaughter charges for his role in the May 25, 2020 death of the 46-year-old Floyd.

Chauvin, 44, who was fired from the police force along with three other officers, could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge -- second-degree murder.

Opening arguments are to begin at 9:00 am Central time (1400 GMT) in a heavily guarded Minneapolis courtroom for a trial expected to last about a month.

Fifteen jurors have been selected for the high-profile case.

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill is expected to drop one juror on Monday and proceed with 12 and two alternates.

The panel seated after two weeks of jury selection is racially mixed: six white women, three Black men, three white men, two mixed race women and one Black woman.

a man looking at the camera: Derek Chauvin, 44, is facing murder and manslaughter charges for the death of George Floyd © Handout Derek Chauvin, 44, is facing murder and manslaughter charges for the death of George Floyd

Police officers are rarely convicted in the United States when charges are brought against them and the trial is being closely watched around the world.

A conviction on any of the charges -- second-degree murder, third-degree murder or manslaughter -- will require the jury to return a unanimous verdict.

Floyd's cause of death is expected to be the central issue in the trial and a key piece of evidence is likely to be the viral video that triggered a summer of anti-racism protests.

Chauvin was seen on the bystander video kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes while arresting him for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

While lying with his face in the street, the handcuffed Floyd complains that he cannot breathe and calls out for his mother.

Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, is expected to argue that the officer was following police procedure and claim that Floyd death's was due to an overdose of the drug fentanyl and underlying health conditions.

a close up of a newspaper: Factfile on the George Floyd murder trial © Gal ROMA Factfile on the George Floyd murder trial

- 'Just verdict' -

The public has been banned from attending the trial because of the Covid-19 pandemic but it is being livestreamed.

The identities of the jurors will not be revealed until after the trial but some details are known.

They range in age from their 20s to their 60s and include a chemist, a social worker, an accountant and a nurse. Two are immigrants to the United States.

One is a grandmother, one is recently married and one is a single mother of two teenage boys.

The jury selection process was complicated by the intensive pre-trial publicity surrounding the case and all but one of the jurors said they had seen at least some of the arrest video.

a group of people playing a game of baseball: Members of the Minnesota National Guard stand guard outside the Hennepin County Government Center where the George Floyd murder trial is taking place © Stephen Maturen Members of the Minnesota National Guard stand guard outside the Hennepin County Government Center where the George Floyd murder trial is taking place

Several potential jurors were excused after telling the judge they could not be fair or impartial or presume Chauvin to be innocent as the law requires them to do.

Others expressed concern for their safety.

Nelson, Chauvin's attorney, asked to have the trial delayed and moved out of Minneapolis because of the March 12 announcement that the city had reached a $27 million "wrongful death" settlement with the Floyd family.

Judge Cahill rejected the demand, saying: "I don't think that there's any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity on this case."

Three other former police officers -- Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng -- also face charges in connection with Floyd's death.

They are to be tried separately later in the year.

Ben Crump, a lawyer for the Floyd family, said he hoped the jury would deliver a "just verdict." 

"George Floyd had more witnesses to his death than any other person ever -- white or Black," Crump said. "We all saw the same thing -- the indisputable and unjustified torture and murder by a police officer of a Black man who was handcuffed, restrained and posed no harm."

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Opening arguments set to begin in George Floyd murder trial