Judge postpones trial of 2 ex-cops in Floyd killing until 2023

MINNEAPOLIS— The judge handling the remaining case against two former Minneapolis police officers charged with the murder of George Floyd ordered on Monday that the trial be postponed until January in hopes that a little extra time will improve the prospects for a fair trial.

Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng were due to stand trial next week for aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death in May 2020. But the county judge of Hennepin, Peter Cahill, ordered on Monday that the trial be adjourned to January 5.

Cahill denied a defense motion for a change of venue, which was requested due to the high publicity in the case. But he said media reports and recent events surrounding related cases had created “a reasonable likelihood of an unfair trial” if he were to start next week.

Cahill cited the May 18 guilty plea of ​​Thao and Keung’s co-defendant, former officer Thomas Lane. He also cited the February convictions of Thao, Kueng and Lane on federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights.

The judge said these two events and the publicity surrounding them are significant enough that it is difficult for jurors to presume that Thao and Kueng are innocent of state charges. Thus, he ordered the delay, a little less than seven months, to diminish the effects of this publicity.

Cahill also presided over last year’s trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, which ended with a second-degree murder conviction and a 22½-year sentence for the white officer who knelt on the black man’s neck for 9 and a half minutes despite Floyd. the pleas of “I can’t breathe” fade away. The killing led to worldwide protests and national judgment on racial injustice.

The judge also denied a motion by a coalition of media organizations, including the Associated Press, to reconsider his April decision to ban live audiovisual coverage of the hammer-to-hammer proceedings. But he said he may reconsider whether the Minnesota state justice system revises its rules on in-court cameras by Jan. 4.

Bob Paule, a lawyer for Thao, said he thought the ruling “was a thoughtful and well-reasoned decision on the part of Judge Cahill.”

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting the case, said in a statement, “It is unfortunate for victims, witnesses and the community that the opportunity to seek justice has been delayed. The state was ready for trial next week and will be next January.

A message left for Kueng’s lawyer was not immediately returned Monday.

The new trial schedule indicates that pre-trial motions will take place on January 5 and 6, with jury selection beginning on January 9. The questionnaires will be mailed to a new group of “several hundred” potential jurors around September 1. for January 30.

In declining a location change, Cahill wrote that he was confident a fair and impartial trial could take place in Hennepin County “eventually,” noting that it is the most populous and diverse county. of State. He said lawyers will be able to select jurors from a panel “that will surely exceed 200” after lengthy questionnaires designed to weed out bias return.

Alan Tuerkheimer, a Chicago-based jury consultant, said the reason for the postponement appeared to be a “strange rationale.” He said he didn’t see how a potential juror’s bias would diminish over time, and with effective questioning, “biased jurors can be weeded out today or tomorrow or early 2023.”

He added that while other events happening between now and January will occupy the minds of jurors, “feelings about these cops will not go away over time. As the trial approaches in January, it will all come down to those who have been following this case. For those who haven’t, the passage of time doesn’t matter.

Mike Brandt, a Minneapolis defense attorney who has followed the case, said that while Cahill’s reason for the postponement is to dispel notoriety of the case, the decision is also likely pragmatic. He said delaying the trial allows time for Thao and Kueng to be sentenced first on their federal convictions, increasing the likelihood of plea deals with the state.

“They may not be on the radar, but in my opinion, it improves settlement options,” Brandt said. He added that once the federal penalties are known, the thought could be, “If we’re going to do this time frame anyway, and the state agrees to this time frame, why are we risking going on trial? »

Chauvin has been in jail since his state murder conviction, while Thao, Keung and Lane remain free on bail pending sentencing on federal civil rights convictions. No federal sentencing date has been set, but defense attorneys said in state court last week that they expect them to be in September. Chauvin pleaded guilty to a civil rights charge, while the other three went on trial.

Cahill’s order said it would not accept any potential plea deals from Thao or Kueng until 15 days after their federal sentencing. They rejected plea deals from prosecutors earlier.

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Find full AP coverage of the death of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd

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