The trial is seen as a landmark case on police violence against Black people in the US, a country where police officers are almost never found to be criminally responsible for killing civilians.

Protesters raise their fists and chant after the
Protesters raise their fists and chant after the "I Can't Breathe" Silent March for Justice in Minneapolis, Minnesota, US on March 7, 2021. (Reuters)

Jury selection has finally got underway in the high-profile trial of the white police officer accused of killing George Floyd, a Black man whose death laid bare racial wounds in the United States and sparked protests across the globe.

Former Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officer Derek Chauvin is facing second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in connection with Floyd's May 25 death, which was captured by bystanders on smartphone video.

Jury selection had been scheduled to begin on Monday but was delayed for a day as prosecutors sought to reinstate a third-degree murder charge against the 44-year-old Chauvin.

A Minnesota court of appeals has not yet issued its ruling but Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, visibly impatient to get the trial going, decided to go ahead with jury selection anyway.

Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison while the lesser charge of third-degree murder carries 25 years.

The jury selection process is expected to take about three weeks with opening arguments in the trial expected to begin around March 29.

Chauvin was dismissed from the police force after he was captured on video with his knee on the neck of a pleading, gasping Floyd for nearly nine minutes.

Chauvin, who has been free on bail, appeared in court on Tuesday wearing a light grey suit and a black face mask at a desk surrounded by plexiglass as a Covid-19 precaution.

He occasionally jotted down notes on a yellow legal pad and conferred with his lawyers as prospective jurors were being questioned.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the George Floyd killing and the protests

Difficult task

Lawyers for both sides face the difficult task of finding jurors who have not already made up their minds about the widely publicised case.

The first potential juror, a Hispanic woman with halting English, was dismissed by the defence team using one of their 15 peremptory challenges.

The woman had referred to Floyd's "unjust" death on a 16-page questionnaire that jurors had been asked to fill out before being called in.

The second potential juror, a man who said he was a chemist, was selected to be one of the 12 jurors or four alternates for the trial.

Asked by Judge Cahill if he could be "fair and impartial," the man replied "Yes."

He told the defence team that he had never watched the viral video of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd's neck.

Three other police officers involved in Floyd's arrest – Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao – face lesser charges and will be tried separately.

All four officers were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department.

READ MORE: Four Minnesota cops fired after death of black man, George Floyd

Marker of change

Floyd's arrest was prompted by accusations that he had tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill in a nearby store.

Chauvin's case is being watched as a potential marker of change in a country that recently elected its first Black vice president but has seen police officers historically escape punishment for abusive acts.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, social distancing rules mean seating will be limited at the trial, with the Floyd and Chauvin families given only one seat a day.

Despite intense global interest, only two reporters will be allowed in. The trial is being live-streamed on Court TV.

Lawyers for Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the force, have argued that he was following police procedure and claim the 46-year-old Floyd died of an overdose of the drug fentanyl.

"Mr. Chauvin acted according to MPD policy, his training and within his duties," according to his lawyer, Eric Nelson.

"He did exactly as he was trained to do."

An autopsy did find traces of fentanyl in Floyd's system but said the cause of death was "neck compression."

A verdict is not expected until late April.

READ MORE: US House approves 'George Floyd' police reform bill

Source: TRTWorld and agencies