Judge says Maxine Waters comments about Chauvin could get case thrown out on appeal, but denies motion for mistrial

Rep. Maxine Waters’ public calls for protests and ‘confrontation’ in the event Derek Chauvin is acquitted could bolster an appeal that gets his case thrown out, the judge said, though refused to declare a mistrial.

Soon after delivering lengthy closing arguments on Monday, Chauvin’s lead defense attorney Eric Nelson requested a mistrial, citing media coverage of the trial that he said was unavoidable and what he deemed inflammatory and “threatening” remarks from the California Democrat over the weekend. During a visit to Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, Waters encouraged anti-police brutality activists to step up their protests and to “get more confrontational” with authorities if Chauvin is not convicted for the murder of George Floyd, who died in police custody last May after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with a knee to his neck for more than nine minutes.

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Nelson accused Waters of “threatening and intimidating the jury” and “demanding that if there’s not a guilty verdict, there would be further problems,” also arguing the jury may have been improperly influenced by her comments.

While Judge Peter Cahill said he was aware of Waters’ statements and took lawmakers to task for “abhorrent” conduct in relation to the Chauvin trial, he ultimately rejected the motion for a mistrial, concluding “a congresswoman's opinion really doesn’t matter a whole lot.”

However, the judge also acknowledged that “Congresswoman Waters may have given [the defense] something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” suggesting Chauvin could get his case tossed due to interference by the elected official. He is charged with second- and third-degree murder as well as second-degree manslaughter.

Prosecutors also pushed back on the call for a mistrial, arguing that the motion should be denied because the defense offered only “vague statements” and did not present “specific evidence that this particular jury was influenced in any particular way.” Cahill ruled in their favor, stating the procedures in place to isolate jurors from outside influences had been sufficient, though did order that the jury be sequestered while they mull a verdict for Chauvin.

Waters’ comments on Saturday have stoked fierce opposition from Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who said the Democrat “broke the law” by encouraging protesters to defy a curfew in Brooklyn Center – the site of another police shooting earlier this month – and “then incited violence.”

Though she did not single out Waters by name, Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Michigan) charged Democrats with hypocrisy over their failure to hold her responsible for the remarks, arguing that “If this was said by a Republican, you know... that the majority in this chamber would move to strip that representative of their committees and possibly move to expel them from Congress.”

Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, meanwhile, said she would introduce a resolution to do just that, vowing to expel Waters from Congress over her remarks. Taylor Greene was herself censured by fellow lawmakers in February due to social media posts made before she took office and stripped of her committee assignments.

Democrats have come to Waters’ defense, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (California) arguing she had nothing to apologize for and that she did not incite violence.

“Maxine talked about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement,” Pelosi said. “I myself think we should take our lead from the George Floyd family. They’ve handled this with great dignity, and no ambiguity.”

After some three weeks of testimony, 45 witnesses and hours of closing arguments, jurors in Chauvin’s trial began deliberating a verdict on Monday. Authorities across Minnesota are bracing for unrest following months of nationwide protests and rioting over a string of police shootings, with National Guard troops deployed and curfew orders imposed in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Brooklyn Center and Champlin.

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