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Judge Reinstates 3rd-Degree Murder Charge Against Derek Chauvin

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The judge in the murder case against Derek Chauvin has reinstated a third-degree murder charge. Chauvin is the white former police officer accused of killing George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis. A video seen around the world showed Chauvin with his knee to Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. Jury selection for Chauvin's trial was already underway when the ruling came down today. NPR's Leila Fadel joins us now to discuss. Hey, Leila.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Hi.

DETROW: So this trial had started. What does this new charge mean?

FADEL: Right. Well, it gives the state more options to get a conviction against Chauvin. He's already facing a second-degree unintentional murder charge and a second-degree manslaughter charge and now this lesser charge. And the reason this is so important to the state is there's only been one police officer in the history of this state that has been convicted for the killing of an unarmed person. And that was Mohamed Noor, a Somali American police officer who killed a white woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond. And he was convicted on this third-degree murder charge. And so basically what happened is this ends all this legal wrangling over that third-degree murder charge. And the judge, Peter Cahill, who's presiding over this trial, had to reinstate the charge because a higher court said he made a mistake by not putting it in - reinstating it in the first place.

DETROW: Got it. So is this a new way for prosecutors to use this charge then?

FADEL: Yeah. So typically, this third-degree murder charge had been brought in cases where someone had done something so reckless that it put multiple people at risk - so driving a car into a crowd, it's been used against drug dealers in overdose cases, things like that - versus the way it was used in the Mohamed Noor case and the way it would be used here. What it does for the state is it gives it, like I said, that third option of conviction on a lesser charge because it's incredibly rare for a police officer to be charged, let alone convicted. And there has never been a police officer accused of killing a Black person that's been convicted in Minnesota.

DETROW: Yeah. I mean, we mentioned jury selection was underway. We had talked at the beginning of the week of about just how hard it is to seat an impartial jury on a case that had worldwide repercussions. How's it going so far?

FADEL: Yeah. Well, jury selection continues this morning. So far, five jurors have been chosen out of 14, 12 will be on the jury, two alternates. And race, as expected, is playing a big role in how the defense and the state are making their decisions on who to strike and who to keep. Also, it's such a slow, deliberate process. Jurors are being interviewed one at a time. And the court is searching for someone who can be fair in this case, knowing that probably everyone has had at least heard about this case or seen that heartbreaking video of Floyd calling for his mother saying he can't breathe. We're hearing the jurors be asked about Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, race and policing, and the racial makeup of the jury will also be important.

So far, of the five juror chosen - of the five jurors that have been chosen, one woman appears to be of mixed race and said she was super excited to be on the jury. There's a white man who's a chemist at an environmental testing lab, another white man who's an auditor, a sales manager who also appears to be white. And the first Black man was seated yesterday as well. He immigrated to the U.S. 14 years ago and is now in IT. There are also prospective jurors who've expressed real concern and sometimes fear about being part of a jury in such a high-profile case that's, frankly, divisive. And so even though their identities are being concealed, we can hear their voices, and there is concern.

DETROW: It's interesting to see the national conversation about this case boiled down to the juror form for the trial.

FADEL: Right.

DETROW: NPR's Leila Fadel, thank you so much.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.