Chauvin, who is White, appeared on video for roughly nine minutes pressing his knee into the neck of Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest – video of which went viral and prompted nationwide protests.
It could be the highest-profile trial of a police officer in decades.
But colleagues and clients have described Nelson as steel-nerved and one of “the best defense attorneys.”
Nelson, 46, is a founding partner at Halberg Defense, one of the largest criminal defense firms in the region, according to law partner Marsh Halberg.
He is not granting interviews or watching the media during the trial, Halberg told Fox News Friday, in order to avoid distractions.
Although he’s facing a deep-pocketed prosecution with a ready supply of outside counsels looking to aid the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, Halberg said Nelson performs well under pressure.
“Inside that courtroom the rules of evidence are the same, the process is the same, this is no different in that respect than any other case,” Halberg said. “He is paced and professional and courteous and does not rattle. So he is a perfect fit for a case of this level of pressure.”
He likened Nelson’s resolve to a scene from the movie “Hoosiers,” in which Gene Hackman’s character brings his small-town basketball team to an intimidating bigtime venue for their state championship game and measures the net to show them the basket is the same height.
“That’s kind of his deal — doesn’t get rattled,” Halberg said.
Perhaps Nelson’s most high-profile case involved Amy Senser, the wife of former Minnesota Vikings tight end Joe Senser, charged in a deadly hit-and-run crash. She was convicted and sentenced to 41 months behind bars.
But he also successfully defended multiple homicide suspects, including a man accused of fatally shooting an unarmed neighbor in 2017 and he successfully argued self-defense for 20-year-old Levi Acre-Kendall in a deadly lakeside stabbing in 2015.
He also teamed up with Earl Gray, an attorney representing one of the other ex-officers charged in connection with Floyd’s death, to defend another homicide suspect, according to Halberg.
Nelson attended Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis before heading to Eastern University in Pennsylvania, where he majored in history, Halberg said.
Years later, the young woman who would eventually film the police encounter that preceded Floyd’s death also attended the school, according to the Star Tribune.
Nelson worked at a museum for a short time after college before changing course and earning a J.D. from Hamline University School of Law, which has since merged into the Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
He’s now exclusively practicing criminal defense law and one of only 12 attorneys in a rotation the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association uses to represent its members.
Those attorneys take turns handling cases for the MPPOA. Another member, Tom Kelly, had initially been assigned to represent Chauvin, but he stepped down for medical reasons and Nelson replaced him.
MPPOA Executive Director Brian Peters told the Associated Press that to become an attorney on the rotation “is not very easy.”
“You are vetted very aggressively,” he said. “That’s why we have 12 of the best defense attorneys on our panel.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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