Nine jurors were seated by the end of the second full day of jury selection Wednesday in Minneapolis in the manslaughter trial of former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potterin the shooting death of Daunte Wright, and the judge suggested an earlier start to the next stage of the trial.
Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu said 14 jurors will be seated with the final pair serving as alternates who will be dismissed before the jury begins deliberating whether Potter is guilty of either first- or second-degree manslaughter for killing Wright during a traffic stop in April.
Five jurors were seated Wednesday after four were selected Tuesday, the initial day of selection. So far, six women and three men have been selected. Jurors are not visible on the livestream of the trial, and their identities are secret for now. Demographic information about the newest jurors wasn't immediately provided by the court.
After questioning the final prospective juror Wednesday, the prosecution used the last of its three peremptory strikes. The moves allow lawyers to dismiss jurors without providing a reason. Now if prosecutors want to keep a prospective juror off the panel, they must give the court an acceptable reason. The defense started jury selection with five peremptory strikes and has three remaining.
Opening statements are scheduled for Dec. 8, and the trial is expected to last possibly through Christmas. Given the speed of the jury selection, Chu floated the idea of starting sooner, but no decision was made. Jury selection was to continue Thursday.
Potter, 49, sat at the defense table both days between her lawyers, Earl Gray and Paul Engh. Like everyone else in the courtroom, the three wore masks when not speaking.
In a somewhat unusual revelation at this stage of the trial, the defense already has told some jurors Potter will take the stand in her defense.
Outside the presence of jurors before selection started Wednesday, Potter confirmed her intent with Chu. "Do you understand it is totally your decision as to whether or not you testify?" the judge asked.
"Yes, I do, Your Honor," Potter responded.
Chu asked if she had time to think about that, and Potter answered, "Yes, ma'am, I wish to testify."
"If you change your mind after the state rests you can do that," Chu told her.
Potter fired a single shot at Wright, 20, during a traffic stop April 11 after he slipped away from an officer and tried to get back into the driver's seat of his car, according to body camera footage.
She yelled, "Taser, Taser, Taser" at Wright and later said she mistakenly grabbed her gun instead of the Taser.
Engh and Gray plan to call a psychologist who will testify about "slip and capture errors," during which a dominant behavior overrides a less dominant one. Prosecutors have argued that Potter negligently ignored her training by firing her handgun instead of her Taser.
Much of the questioning by lawyers in jury selection has focused on attitudes toward police and willingness and ability to serve on the jury. Chu dismissed one woman, who is seven months pregnant and experiencing severe nausea daily, because of concerns she would require hospitalization and cause a delay in the trial.
Generally, the defense is looking for jurors willing to believe police officers can make mistakes without rising to the level of criminal culpability. Prosecutors are seeking jurors who aren't overly deferential to police authority.
One juror seated Wednesday was a young woman who was questioned briefly by both sides and assured them she could withhold judgment and make a decision based solely on the evidence.
"I understand what I need to do," she said. "Follow the law."
Another juror selected is a mother and teacher who carries a compact Taser for protection and has a state-issued permit to carry a firearm in public.
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 across the country.
She described the scene where Wright was shot as chaotic but disagreed that officers should not be second-guessed about their actions on duty. "This is a servitude job," she said, "and when you get in this situation, you have to understand that this is a tough job."
Another selected juror said he served on a jury about 10 years ago during a trial involving trespassing allegations against protesters. The man said on the jury questionnaire he had "somewhat negative" impressions of Potter and Wright.
He wrote of Wright: "I don't condone fleeing from a police officer." As for Potter, he wrote: "Your actions should be more thought out."
Another male juror who was seated said he trusts the police "until proven otherwise."
I expect them to protect me," said the nurse and property manager." I don't really have a reason not to trust them until otherwise, depending on the circumstances, I guess."
A woman selected Wednesday afternoon said she would rather not be on the jury., explaining, "I have a lot of friends and family that are very opinionated on the matter. … I do have a lot of those influences around me."
Even so, she continued, "I certainly can" be an unbiased juror and serve. "I believe it's a civic duty."
Staff writer Chao Xiong contributed to this report.