8 jurors are now seated in Potter manslaughter trial




  • In US
  • 2021-12-01 18:02:00Z
  • By Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Four jurors were added Wednesday morning in the second day of the manslaughter trial of Kimberly Potter, bringing to eight the number chosen so far to hear the case against the former Brooklyn Center police officer who shot Daunte Wright during what started as a traffic stop in April.

Four jurors were chosen Tuesday among the 11 who were questioned, with most excused by Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu because they couldn't remain unbiased, had safety concerns about serving on the jury or for other reasons.

The newest juror, a young woman, was questioned briefly by both the defense and the prosecution and assured the court that she could judge the case solely on the evidence presented during the trial.

"I understand what I need to do," she said. "Follow the law."

Questioned about efforts to defund police, the woman said she "somewhat" disagrees, adding, "You're always going to need police officers, and there is always going to be bad things happening."

The sixth juror selected is a mother and teacher who routinely carries a compact Taser for protection and has a state-issued permit to carry a firearm in public.

She said "not necessarily," when asked whether she obtained her permit out of a safety concern. Guns are "also used for sport and a hobby," she said.

The woman said she has seen on television the police body camera video of Potter's encounter with Wright and called it "a terrible situation ... because it's continuing to happen." She explained that she was referring to other incidents of police killing civilians around the country.

She described the scene where Wright was shot as chaotic but disagrees that officers should not be second-guessed about their actions on duty because "this is a servitude job, and when you get in this situation, you have to understand that this is a tough job."

The seventh juror chosen sat on a jury about 10 years ago involving trespassing allegations against protesters, but assured the court that his experience would have no affect on his ability to be an unbiased juror.

The man said on the jury questionnaire he had "somewhat negative" impressions of both Potter and Wright.

He wrote of Wright: "I don't condone fleeing from a police officer." As for Potter: "Your actions should be more thought out."

The man said he has a neutral feeling about the pro-police Blue Lives Matter movement, saying it "seemed like a marketing aspect to counter Black Lives Matter."

The eighth juror selected says he trusts the police "until proven otherwise. I expect them to protect me. I don't really have a reason not to trust them until otherwise, depending on the circumstances, I guess."

Prosecutor Matthew Frank asked how the man, a nurse and property manager, can put aside the civil unrest in the Twin Cities since last year while deliberating with other jurors.

"Based on the evidence and what is presented to me as a juror, I'd make a decision from there,"he said.

The man said he wife was a clerk for a judge many years ago and also worked in a public defenders office, but he was confident her background in law would not influence him as a juror.

The four chosen Tuesday are a white man in his 50s, a white woman in her 60s, a white man in his 20s and a woman of Asian descent in her 40s, according to the court. A jury of 14, two of them alternates, will be seated in Potter's trial, which is expected to start on Dec. 8.

One of Potter's attorneys, Paul Engh, revealed while questioning one jury candidate that Potter would testify during the trial. Her defense has said she mistook her handgun for her Taser when she shot Wright on April 11 as he broke free of an officer trying to handcuff him, jumped into his car and attempted to flee.

The defense used one of its peremptory strikes late Wednesday morning and eliminated a Minneapolis man who wrote in the juror questionnaire "grabbing your gun and firing ... seems like a very stupid mistake."

Defense attorney Earl Gray pointed out that the man underline the last few words of the answer.

Gray also quizzed the man on whether Wright being Black and Potter being white would influence his ability to be an unbiased juror, given that the man wrote in the questionnaire that "I do believe minorities have been and are treated unfairly in the country" by the judicial system.

"I think I could fairly judge" the case regardless of the racial difference between Wright and Potter, he said. Gray's next comment in open court was to use a strike and send the jury candidate home.

The defense used one of its peremptory strikes late Wednesday morning and eliminated a Minneapolis man who wrote in the juror questionnaire "grabbing your gun and firing ... seems like a very stupid mistake."

Defense attorney Earl Gray pointed out that the man underlined the last few words of the answer.

Gray also quizzed the man on whether Wright being Black and Potter being white would influence his ability to be an unbiased juror, given that the man wrote in the questionnaire that "I do believe minorities have been and are treated unfairly i the country" by the judicial system.

"I think I could fairly judge" the case regardless of the racial difference between Wright and Potter, he said. Gray's next comment in open court was to use a strike and send the jury candidate home.

Potter confirmed as court opened Wednesday morning that she intends to testify:

"Do you understand it is totally your decision as to whether or not you testify?" Chu asked

"Yes I do, Your Honor." Potter said.

"Have you had enough time to think about this?"

"Yes ma'am, I wish to testify."

"If you change your mind after the state rests you can do that." Chu said, adding that if Potter opts not to testify, a jury instruction can be added that Potter has no obligation to prove her innocence.

Potter, 49, is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter for firing a single shot at Wright, 20, on that Sunday afternoon. Her attorneys, Engh and Earl Gray, plan to call a psychologist who will testify about "slip and capture errors," during which a dominant behavior overrides a less dominant one.

The Minnesota Attorney General's Office and Hennepin County Attorney's Office, led by prosecutor Matthew Frank, have argued that Potter was trained to recognize the difference between the two weapons and acted negligently.

Police body camera footage captured the moment, showing Potter firing her handgun at Wright as she yelled, "Taser! Taser! Taser!" Wright was stopped for expired tabs, and police discovered there was a warrant for his arrest on a gross misdemeanor weapons charge.

Of the jury candidates questioned Tuesday, seven said they had either a "very negative" or "somewhat negative" impression of Potter. One expressed a "somewhat positive" impression of her; the rest were neutral or were not asked the question. Most said they could set aside what they had learned about the case and decide it based on the evidence presented in court.

The court summoned for this case 453 prospective jurors - 127 more than the number for the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in April of murdering George Floyd in 2020. Frank was among the key prosecutors who persuaded the jury to find Chauvin guilty.

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