MINNEAPOLIS ( Associated Press) — The judge overseeing the remainder of the case against two former Minneapolis police officers charged in the murder of George Floyd ordered Monday that the trial be delayed until January, in the hopes that some extra time will allow for a fair trial. will improve.
Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng was to be tried next week on charges of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 2020 death of Floyd. But Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill ordered Monday that the trial be postponed until January 5.
Cahill denied a defense motion for a change of venue because of the widespread pretrial publicity surrounding the case. But he said media reports and recent events surrounding linked cases have created “a reasonable possibility of unfair testing” if it is to begin next week.
Cahill cited a guilty plea on May 18 by Thao and King’s co-defendants, former Officer Thomas Lane. He also cited the February convictions of Thao, Kueng and Lane on federal charges of civil rights violations by Floyd.
The judge said those two incidents and the publicity surrounding them are so significant that it becomes difficult for jurors to assume that Thao and Kueng are innocent of the state’s charges against them. Therefore, he ordered a delay of only seven months, to reduce the impact of that promotion.
Cahill also presided over last year’s trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, who was sentenced to second-degree murder and 22 1/2 for a white officer who knelt on a black man’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes, despite Floyd ended with a sentence of one year. Fading pleas of “I can’t breathe”. The killing sparked worldwide protests and a national outcry over racial injustice.
The judge also rejected a motion by a coalition of media organizations, including The Associated Press, to reconsider its April decision to restrict live audiovisual coverage of the proceedings from gavel to gavel. But he said he may reconsider if the Minnesota state court system revises its rules on cameras in courts by Jan.
Bob Poole, an attorney for Thao, said he felt the decision was “a thoughtful and well-considered decision by Judge Cahill.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, in whose office the trial is underway, said in a statement: “It is unfortunate for the victims, witnesses and the community that the opportunity for justice has been delayed. The state prepares for trial next week.” And will be ready next January.
A message left for Kueng’s lawyer on Monday was not immediately returned.
The new trial schedule says that the pre-trial motion will be held on January 5 and January 6, with jury selection starting on January 9. The questionnaire will be sent to a new pool of “several hundred” potential jurors around September 1. Opening statements are set for January 30.
Denying the change of venue, Cahill wrote that he was satisfied that a fair and impartial trial could “finally” be conducted in Hennepin County, given that it is the most populous and diverse county in the state. Lawyers would get to select a jury from a panel “which of course would be over 200” once the lengthy questionnaire designed to remove bias is returned, he said.
Chicago-based jury advisor Alan Tuerkheimer said the reason for the adjournment sounds like a “strange argument.” He said he doesn’t see how a potential jury member’s bias will diminish as time goes on. “The biased gamblers could be kicked out today or tomorrow or as early as 2023,” he said with effective enquiry.
He said that while other events that happen between now and January will consume the minds of jurors, “feelings about these cops will not disappear with time. As the January hearings come to a close, it’s all about those people.” Passes will come back, those who pursued the matter. For those who haven’t, the passage of time doesn’t matter.”
Mike Brandt, a Minneapolis defense attorney who is pursuing the case, said that although the reason for Cahill’s adjournment is to erode the notoriety of the case, the decision is also likely to be practical. He said pushing back the trial gives Thao and Kueng time to be sentenced on their federal convictions earlier, raising the possibility of a plea agreement with the state.
“They may not be on the radar, but in my opinion, it increases the options for a deal,” Brandt said. He said that once the federal sentence is known, the thinking might be: “If we’re going to do this amount of money anyway, and the state agrees to this time, why would we risk going to trial? ?”
Chauvin is in prison since his state murder sentence, while Thao, Keung and Lane remain free on federal civil rights bail pending their sentence. No federal sentencing date has been set, but defense attorneys told state court last week that they expect them to happen in September. Chauvin pleaded guilty to the civil rights charge, while the other three went to trial.
Cahill’s order said he would not consider any possible plea settlement from Thao or Kueng until 15 days after his federal sentence. He previously rejected prosecutors’ arguments.
Watch the Associated Press’s full coverage of George Floyd’s death here: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd