A juror in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin spoke out for the first time Wednesday after last week’s historic murder conviction of Chauvin for the 2020 killing of George Floyd.
Brandon Mitchell, previously known only as Juror 52, is the first member of the 12-person panel to publicly come forward; an alternate juror who was not part of debilitations spoke to reporters last week. Mitchell did not immediately respond to The Washington Post but gave several TV and radio interviews Tuesday and Wednesday.
He described the stress of the trial of the white former officer in the killing of Floyd, a Black man, to Gayle King on Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.”
“It wasn’t pressure to come to a guilty verdict,” said Mitchell, who is Black. “We stressed about the simple fact that every day we had to come in and watch a Black man die. That alone was stressful enough.”
“Anything outside of that was secondary,” he added. “As a human, it’s natural to feel some kind of way as you’re watching someone in agony.”
It took jurors 10 hours over two days to convict Chauvin of murder and manslaughter. Mitchell, a 31-year-old high school basketball coach in Minneapolis, said deliberations could have moved even faster.
“I felt like it should have been 20 minutes,” Mitchell said Wednesday during an interview with “Good Morning America.”
The votes to find Chauvin guilty on all charges — a decision that could put the 45-year-old in prison for up to 40 years — was one the jurors were at peace with, Mitchell said.
“Everyone was okay with it,” he said told CBS News. “Everyone was on the same page for sure, no question.”
When deliberations started on April 19, the jury held two low-stakes votes to break the ice — one about removing masks in the deliberation room and one to elect their foreperson — before starting with the manslaughter charge, Mitchell recalled to CBS News. On the preliminary vote, 11 jurors were in favor of conviction and one was unsure. Mitchell said the initial holdout involved individual understanding of the legal terminology in the judge’s instructions to the jury.
“We went over it as a team, a group,” he told CBS News. “Forty minutes later, and everyone was on the same page for the manslaughter.”
The two murder charges followed a similar pattern of a preliminary vote followed by a discussion until they reached a unanimous decision.
Mitchell said the knockout blow against the defense came when Martin Tobin, the Chicago-based pulmonologist and breathing expert, took the witness stand for the prosecution during expert testimony. He said jurors were convinced by Tobin’s scientific rigor and his ability to translate it for laypeople.
“I thought he just broke it down in a manner that was easy for all the jurors to understand,” Mitchell said on CBS. “To me the case was done, almost.”
Jurors were more ambivalent about Chauvin’s decision not to testify in his own defense.
Mitchell said it’s “possible” Chauvin testifying could have a made a difference, but felt they would have reached the same conclusion anyway.
“Several jurors said they would have liked to have heard from him,” Mitchell said. He recalled how the ex-officer had a “confident swagger” in court during the first two weeks of witness testimony, but said his outward behavior eventually changed after a few pivotal moments.
“He started looking a little more confused and discombobulated as the trial went on,” Mitchell said.
While legal experts largely agreed the video of Floyd’s arrest was powerful evidence, Daniel S. Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University, said the diversity of the jury — half of the jurors were Black or multiracial — was an undeniably important factor.
Cases of police officers who kill people on the job rarely go to trial and even more rarely yield convictions. Such cases have historically involved white prosecutors and largely white juries casting judgment on white police officers who have killed a person of color, Medwed said.
“The fact this jury was somewhat representative of the community that was harmed is a vital part of this,” Medwed told The Washington Post. “When the book of this trial is written, it’ll be a vital chapter and not a footnote.”
While it’s unclear how a less diverse jury would have decided, Medwed said their speedy deliberation indicated that the jurors were “uniformly horrified” by Chauvin’s actions. “It crossed all lines,” he said.
The makeup of the jury had been intensely scrutinized since the start of Chauvin’s trial. Judge Peter A. Cahill, who presided over the trial, tried to preserve the jurors’ anonymity both for their safety and for the integrity of the verdict. Cameras in the courtroom weren’t allowed to photograph or film the jurors and they were only referred to by number during the trial. What few details were known of the jurors were gleaned from the jury selection process.
Last week, Cahill signed an order keeping the identity of the jurors and any identifying information on them sealed for six months. Jurors can electively identify themselves to the public and speak about their experience.
Mitchell first broke his silence on Tuesday in a radio interview with Grammy-winning singer Erica Campbell, who hosts a syndicated morning show carried on gospel stations.
After being released from jury duty, Mitchell told Campbell he went straight to the home of his mother, a pastor in Minneapolis, and stayed there for hours to decompress.
During his CBS interview, he estimated jurors had to watch footage of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he cried out that he couldn’t breathe five or six times a day.
Mitchell said he was the only African American man on the panel; two other jurors were African immigrants. The 31-year-old acknowledged that he chafed when the defense during testimony focused on Floyd’s physical size, suggesting a large, Black man could be viewed as threatening by police.
“I’m a gentle giant,” said Mitchell, noting that he is 6-foot-4. “Stuff like that affects me in a way that’s weird.”
He told CBS he suspects he was selected to serve on Chauvin’s jury because he was “mild-mannered,” claiming that he “didn’t get too emotional” when he was interviewed. Mitchell was also a seemingly rare candidate who not seen the video of Chauvin killing Floyd in full.
“I had seen a little portion of the video, but I couldn’t really watch it because I didn’t want to see so much of it,” he said. When he came across it last year, he quickly turned it off. “I didn’t need to know more. I knew how it would end,” he said of Floyd’s death.
Once the trial was underway, Mitchell said he wasn’t sure about how the other jurors felt until they began deliberations. He said outside chatter about the case — including a public comment from Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., about the trial that prompted Cahill to publicly admonish the congresswoman — didn’t reach their ears.
“I’m pretty sure none of us paid any attention to that at all,” he said.
Mitchell said on CBS he has not had concerns for his safety since publicly speaking about the trial, but indicated this week on Campbell’s radio program his interviews might offer some clarity to his high school basketball players. He was forced to miss the end of their season when he was selected for jury duty and wasn’t allowed to divulge the details.
“They knew I was on jury duty,” he said, “but I couldn’t tell him the magnitude of what it really was.”