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Judge: Trial of officers in Tyre Nichols case will happen in Memphis

The legal fate of four Memphis Police Department officers accused of killing Tyre Nichols will decided by Memphians, after motions to relocate the upcoming trial of were denied by a federal judge on Thursday, April 4.

U.S. Federal Judge Mark Norris rejected defense counsel arguments that abundant media coverage likely tainted the city’s jury pool. Nichols’ death – like the murder of George Floyd – garnered international media attention for months.

However, the motions can be refiled if prejudice is revealed during juror-selection. Potential bias is typically weeded-out during the process.

Trial relocations, however, are rare.

If the trial is moved from Memphis, the most likely in-state option is Jackson. Or, instead of moving to a Eastern Division of the Western Division of Tennessee courtroom, the nearby by city could provide the jury pool.

Another option is to move the trial out-of-state. It is scheduled to begin on Sept. 9.

Former members of the MPD’s now-disbanded Scorpion Unit – Emmitt Martin, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley and Justin Smith – are facing federal charges that they deprived the 29-year-old Black motorist of his civil rights through excessive force. They are also charged with failure to intervene, along with witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

They are also facing second-degree murder charges from the state. The trail is delayed. It will begin after the federal trial concludes.

A fifth officer, Desmond Mills, Jr., pleaded guilty to the federal charges in November. He also plans to plead guilty to the state charge.

All are African American.

During the hearing, conversations swirled around a proposed jury questionnaire that remains sealed. After initially arguing its release would taint the jury pool, Martin’s co-council reversed course.

Following a recess, attorney Stephen Johnson stated his client was prepared to unseal the document – along with anything else the judge requested.

Nevertheless, not all of his co-defendants were on the same page.

Michael Stengel, council for Haley, still has concerns over its public release.

Johnson suggested the questionnaire remain sealed, while being discussed in open court, to prevent any potential jury pool bias. Prosecutors reacted positively, including including the questionnaire in sidebar discussions, or in Norris’ chambers. It is being mulled.

Norris scheduled a hearing on the matter on May 7.

Nichols was aggressively stopped at a light for alleged reckless driving on January 7, 2023. Pulled from his car, he was tasered and pepper sprayed. After fleeing on foot, he was eventually caught less than a mile his mother’s Orange Mound home. He was beaten for three minutes while prone.

He died three days later.

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