MEMORIAL POLICE (AP) – Lawyers and a judge issued jury instructions Monday for the trial of a white Minnesota police officer who fatally shot black motorist Daunte Wright, in which the judge denied defense requests that would have made the instructions more comprehensive in favor of the former officer.
Kim Potter, 49, is charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in Wright’s death on April 11 in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis. Potter, who withdrew two days after the shooting, said she intended to use her Taser on Wright after he tried to run away from officers while trying to arrest him, but instead grabbed his gun. .
Her body camera recorded the shooting.
Opening declarations are scheduled for Wednesday.
Judge Regina Chu went with standard jury instructions to define second-degree manslaughter, which involves criminal negligence. For first-degree manslaughter, she said she would use language that defines ruthlessness from the jury’s instructions in a previous case, which she said is the controlling law. She resisted the defense’s efforts to replace a broader language that could have given Potter a greater advantage.
Chu said she would complete the jury’s instruction on when police can use lethal force after hearing some testimony during the trial.
Chu rejected a defense request to add an instruction to note that fleeing a police officer is a violent crime. Chu said that is not always the case. She said police officers can testify that it is a violent crime to flee from an officer.
The defense also sought to include elements of Wright’s behavior in the instructions, noting that he did not follow police commands, tried to flee, and drove without a driver’s license. “His conduct was unreasonable and his own negligence contributed to the tragedy here,” said attorney Paul Engh.
Chu denied it, saying allegations of what Wright should or should not have done may come up in testimony, but will not be in the jury’s instructions.
Jury instructions are important because they tell jurors what the law is and how the facts of the case should be applied to the law, said Mike Brandt, a Minneapolis-based defense attorney who has no connection to the case. In general, the defense is trying to extend the instructions so that the prosecutors have more to prove, while the state is trying to make the instructions as narrow as possible.
Brandt said judges will generally violate state standard instructions because these have already been approved by judges from around Minnesota.
A jury of 14 people – including two deputies – will hear the case. Nine of the 12 jurors likely to consider are white, one is black and two are Asian. The two deputies are white.
The race composition of the jury is roughly in line with the demographics of Hennepin County, which is about 74% white. But the jury is remarkably less diverse than the one that convicted former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin in the spring of George Floyd’s death.
Potter has told the court she will testify. She could be heard on body camera video saying, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” before firing, followed by, “I grabbed the wrong (explosive) gun.”
Wright, 20, was shot when Chauvin stood trial 10 miles (16 kilometers) away for killing Floyd. Wright’s death triggered several nights of intense protests in the suburbs.
The most serious charge against Potter requires prosecutors to prove ruthlessness; the less require them to prove guilty negligence. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines require a sentence of just over seven years for first-degree manslaughter and four years for second-degree. Prosecutors have said they will seek a longer sentence.
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