Minneapolis (AFP) -
The George Floyd murder trial is a referendum on American justice, the family lawyer said Monday ahead of opening statements in the case against the white police officer accused of killing the 46-year-old Black man.
'The whole world is watching,' said Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer and attorney for the Floyd family.
'Today starts a landmark trial that will be a referendum on how far America has come in its quest for equality and justice for all,' Crump said outside the Minneapolis courtroom where the trial is to take place.
Crump and members of the Floyd family then took a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time officer Derek Chauvin was seen on video kneeling on Floyd's neck.
Floyd's May 25, 2020 death sparked protests against racism and police brutality across the United States and around the world.
Chauvin, 44, a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, faces murder and manslaughter charges for his role in Floyd's death.
Chauvin, who was fired from the police along with three other officers, could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge -- second-degree murder.
Floyd's cause of death is expected to be the central issue in the case, and a key piece of evidence is likely to be the bystander-filmed video that went viral.
Crump said Chauvin's defense attorney is 'going to try to assassinate the character of George Floyd.'
'But this is the trial of Derek Chauvin, Let's look at his record,' he said. 'The facts are simple. What killed George Floyd was an overdose of excessive force.'
Floyd died while Chauvin was arresting him for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
While lying with his face in the street, the handcuffed Floyd complained that he cannot breathe and calls out for his mother.
Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, is expected to argue that the officer was following police procedure and claim that Floyd's death was due to an overdose of the drug fentanyl and underlying health conditions.
Chauvin's trial is being held in a heavily guarded Minneapolis courtroom. Proceedings are expected to last about a month.
- 'Extreme amounts of publicity' -
Fifteen jurors have been selected, though Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill is expected to drop one juror on Monday and proceed with 12 and two alternates.
The panel seated after two weeks of jury selection is racially mixed: six white women, three Black men, three white men, two mixed-race women and one Black woman.
Police officers are rarely convicted in the United States when charges are brought against them.
A conviction on any of the charges -- second-degree murder, third-degree murder or manslaughter -- will require the jury to return a unanimous verdict.
The public has been banned from attending the trial because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is being livestreamed.
The identities of the jurors will not be revealed until after the trial but some details are known.
They range in age from their 20s to their 60s and include a chemist, a social worker, an accountant and a nurse. Two are immigrants to the United States.
One is a grandmother, one is recently married and one is a single mother of two teenage boys.
The jury selection process was complicated by the intensive pre-trial publicity surrounding the case and all but one of the jurors said they had seen at least some of the arrest video.
Several potential jurors were excused after telling the judge they could not be fair or impartial or presume Chauvin to be innocent as the law requires them to do.
Others expressed concern for their safety.
Nelson, Chauvin's attorney, asked to have the trial delayed and moved out of Minneapolis because of the March 12 announcement that the city had reached a $27 million 'wrongful death' settlement with the Floyd family.
Judge Cahill rejected the demand, saying: 'I don't think that there's any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity on this case.'
Three other former police officers -- Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng -- also face charges in connection with Floyd's death.
They are to be tried separately later in the year.