In two separate interviews on Thursday, Lisa Christensen — one of two alternate jurors in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — discussed her experience serving on the jury.
Christiansen interviewed with Jamie Yuccas of “CBS This Morning,” as well as with Minneapolis NBC affiliate KARE-TV reporter Lou Raguse. She also shared some of her notes taken during the hearing.
Here is the full Q and A with Juror 96. As well as contemporaneous notes she took while empaneled as a juror in the Derek Chauvin trial.https://t.co/907brj5Wws
— Lou Raguse (@LouRaguse) April 22, 2021
Alternate jurors serve just as regular jurors do — they sit with the regular jury throughout the trial, listening to and observing the same evidence. But once it is time for the jury to retire to deliberate, the alternates are released from service. They do not participate in the deliberations and therefore, they have no say in the verdict.
The purpose of alternates is to ensure that the case can move forward if something occurs mid-trial that prevents one of the regular jurors from continuing to serve.
Depending on the jurisdiction and the requests of the parties, alternate jurors may not know that they have been selected as alternates — as opposed to actual jurors — until the end of the trial when it is time to deliberate. This is done to ensure that alternates pay just as close attention to the evidence as to the regular jurors do.
Such was the case for the alternates, including Christensen, who were selected for Chauvin’s trial.
Christensen did not know that she had been picked as an alternate in this case. “I spent three weeks of my time, getting invested and going through all kinds of emotions. My heart broke a little when [the judge] turned and said, ‘Number 96, you’re an alternate,’” she told KARE.
Number 96 was the juror number that had been assigned to Christensen.
In her interview with Raguse, Christensen explained that the jurors, even when talking amongst themselves, identified themselves only by their assigned numbers. “We did not identify ourselves amongst each other, so we did not say our names, occupations, or anything about our families.”
Presumably, this was to protect the jurors from being doxxed and subjected to intimidation and violence.
That the court imposed such precautions means it had real concerns about the jurors’ physical safety. And if the court had those concerns, the jurors must have had them, as well.
Christensen confirmed this to be the case, and admitted that initially, she did not know if she wanted to serve on the jury because she did not want to “disappoint one group or the other,” she “did not want to go through rioting and destruction again” and she “was concerned about people coming to [her] house if they were not happy with the verdict.”
Indeed, the death of George Floyd during the course of a police arrest in May triggered mass demonstrations in cities throughout the nation last summer that were marked by riots, looting, arson and violence. Similar protests erupted across the globe, as well.
Yet despite having expressed eminently valid and potentially disqualifying worries — which were “made … more intense” for Christensen because the trial was being televised live — she was still placed on the jury.
More than likely, Christensen was not the only person selected to serve on the jury who felt such apprehensions.
Christensen also acknowledged that by the time she made it on the jury, she had seen the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd “two or three times on the news” and that she also “saw the settlement run across the bottom of the screen one day.”
The settlement Christensen was referring to, of course, was the $27 million payout to George Floyd’s family made by the City of Minneapolis to resolve a civil lawsuit arising out of Floyd’s death in police custody. The city had publicly announced the settlement in the middle of jury selection for Chauvin’s trial.
Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, had moved for a change of venue based on this highly inflammatory and prejudicial pretrial publicity — arguing that his client could not get a fair trial in Minneapolis as a result of it. The trial court denied those requests.
During her interview, Christensen — who lives in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, the suburb where the police shooting of Daunte Wright happened — was asked about the Wright case, which occurred while the Chauvin trial was underway, and whether it impacted her at all.
Christensen responded that she lives “about six blocks” from the Brooklyn Center Police Department, which was besieged by protestors and has been the epicenter of violent riots since Wright’s shooting.
“I could hear everything,” Christensen said. “When I came home, I could hear the helicopters flying over my house … If I stepped outside, I could see the smoke from the grenades. One day, the trial ran a little late, and I had trouble getting to my house, because the protesters were blocking the interstate, so I had to go way around. I was aware, but it did not affect me at all.”
I just had a fascinating sit-down interview with one of the alternate jurors in the Derek Chauvin trial.
Lisa Christensen was the juror who lived in Brooklyn Center. One night she could hardly make it home after testimony ended because of protesters blocking intersections. pic.twitter.com/KUtHSOGm8N
— Lou Raguse (@LouRaguse) April 22, 2021
Christensen said that the riots, which were taking place literally a stone’s throw from her home, “did not affect [her] at all” — but that is hardly believable coming from someone who “was concerned about people coming to [her] house if they were not happy with the verdict.”
It is also a bit unbelievable considering Christiansen similarly told Yuccas in her interview with CBS, “I was worried about, you know, whatever the verdict may be — if some people felt strongly on one side, other people felt strongly on the other side — so no matter what, I felt like somebody wasn’t going to be happy.”
For the most part, the interviews with Christensen involved what appeared to be carefully scripted softball questions, based on what was aired of the interviews.
The questions skirted several important topics. For example, Christensen was not asked what effect the daily demonstrations outside the courthouse had on her and the other jurors.
Nor was she questioned about whether she and the other jurors had heard that a pig’s head had been left at the former home of the defense witness who said that Chauvin’s restraint of George Floyd was justified.
No inquiry was made about whether the jury had heard Democratic California Rep. Maxine Waters’ threat — made before closing arguments in the case — that there would be violence in the streets unless the jury found Chauvin “guilty, guilty guilty” on all counts, and if so, what effect it had on them.
— Darnae (@DDarnae) April 18, 2021
And, of course, absent from the interviews were any mention of President Joe Biden’s statement — made while the jury was deliberating — that the evidence of guilt was “overwhelming” and that he was praying that the jury would reach the “right verdict” in the case.
Whether these incidents were known to the jury must be investigated.
In any case, had the court either transferred the venue of the trial or sequestered the jury — as Chauvin’s attorney requested throughout the trial — Christensen and the other jurors would not have been exposed to any of this.
As an alternate juror, Christensen did not participate in deliberating on the verdict. But when asked how she would have voted, she said that she would have found Chauvin guilty.
In reaching a verdict, jurors are required to base their decision solely on the evidence introduced at trial and the law that applies to the case, as instructed to them by the judge.
It appears that Christensen took neither into account, though. She admitted that she “could not absorb” the governing law that the judge provided, and she merely “felt” that Chauvin was guilty “on some level” — she could be no more specific.
“I would have voted guilty. However, at the end, the judge did read us the rules for deliberation, but it was quick, and I could not absorb it. I would have said guilty on some level … I feel like Chauvin is responsible for Mr. Floyd’s death.”
But a “feeling” that a criminal defendant is culpable “on some level” is hardly enough to support a conviction.
Most concerning was what Christensen said when asked what she would say to the family of Floyd. In response to that question, Christensen said, “I would apologize to them. I really feel their pain and their struggle. I have not personally been to 38th and Chicago, but I think I will. It will be the final closure for me to pay my respects and let George Floyd know that we did the best that we could.”
It’s unclear why Christensen thinks she owes Floyd an apology — jurors take an oath to render a verdict based solely on the evidence and the law. If a juror is faithful to that oath, there is nothing to be contrite about.
Nor is the purpose of a jury ever to “do the best they can” for one party or another. A jury is not, as Christensen implies, an arm of the prosecution — its members are supposed to be fair and impartial arbiters of the facts.
Despite Christensen not having participated in the deliberations, her interview nevertheless provides revealing insights into what the jury’s decision-making process was.
Christensen’s remarks during her interview raise important questions about whether the jurors who did deliberate, and who arrived at a verdict convicting Chauvin on all counts, considered only the trial evidence and the law given to them by Judge Peter Cahill in making that determination, or whether it was improperly influenced by external pressures.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue of Chauvin’s guilt, we all should agree that the Constitution guarantees every criminal defendant a fair trial.
Did Chauvin get that? The jury’s still out.
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