Jury selection delayed in trial of officer charged in George Floyd death
Demonstrators hold pictures of George Floyd outside the Hennepin County Government Center where the trial is to be held of the police officer charged with his death(AFP)

Jury selection was delayed on Monday in the US trial of the white policeman charged with killing George Floyd, a Black man whose dying breaths were captured on video and sparked outraged protests against racial injustice around the world.

As hundreds of protestors gathered near a heavily guarded Minneapolis courthouse, Judge Peter Cahill ordered the selection of jurors in the closely watched trial delayed until at least Tuesday.

Prosecutors had asked for a delay until a court of appeals can rule on whether a third-degree murder charge can be reinstated against Chauvin.

The 44-year-old is already facing second-degree murder and manslaughter charges for Floyd's May 25, 2020 death.

"We have jurors but I think realistically we're not going to get to any jury selection and we won't have an answer (from the court of appeals) until at least tomorrow," the judge said.

"So unless any of the parties object I'm going to kick our jurors loose and start everything tomorrow with jury selection."

The judge called a recess until 10:00 am Central Time (1600 GMT) on Tuesday.

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

He appeared to closely follow the procedural arguments and was seen at one point jotting down notes on a yellow legal pad.

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

Racial wounds

Floyd's death laid bare racial wounds in the United States and sparked months of sometimes violent protests against racism, injustice and police brutality, both in the US and abroad.

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

Jury selection is expected to take up to three weeks, with arguments slated to begin on March 29.

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.

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

Among the hundreds of protesters gathered in Minneapolis on Monday morning was Marcus X. Smith, who stood on a sidewalk using a karaoke machine to blare his message to the crowd carrying "Black Lives Matter" posters and pictures of Floyd.

"There's a problem in America," Smith told AFP. "The problem is the system we're fighting. Cops get acquitted in a racist system."

Smith said if Chauvin is acquitted he does not want to see a repetition of the destruction and looting that followed Floyd's death.

"Instead of burning the city down," Smith said, "lock the city down."

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

It will feature gripping testimony, as foreshadowed Sunday by Benjamin Crump, a prominent civil rights attorney representing the Floyd family.

"You look at the video, and you hear him say 28 times, 'I can't breathe,'" Crump told ABC's "This Week."

"The public is begging the police to take the knee off his neck. They say his nose is bleeding; he can't breathe; he is going unconscious -- you're going to kill him."

'Exactly as he was trained to do'

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 each day.

The Minnesota attorney general's office brought in Neal Katyal, a former US acting solicitor general who has argued cases before the Supreme Court, to help with the prosecution.

Lawyers for Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the force, have argued that he was following police procedure.

"Mr. Chauvin acted according to MPD policy, his training and within his duties as a licensed peace officer of the State of Minnesota," according to his lawyer, Eric Nelson. "He did exactly as he was trained to do."

According to Nelson, Floyd died of an overdose of fentanyl.

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

A verdict is not expected until late April.