The state trial for two former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death was delayed until next year by a judge, who said a recent plea deal accepted by a third officer charged in the fatal arrest of the 46-year-old Black man could create the “reasonable likelihood of an unfair trial.”
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill ordered that the trial for Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng will be delayed until Jan. 5, 2023.
Thao and Kueng were expected to go on trial together beginning on June 13.
Both men are charged with aiding and abetting in murder and aiding and abetting in manslaughter.
Cahill denied a motion from defense attorneys for a change of venue, but cited two recent events in his decision to postpone the trial.
The judge noted that pretrial publicity over the plea deal struck with a third defendant, former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane, and the convictions in February of Lane, Thao and Kueng on federal civil rights charges, could make it difficult at this time to select an impartial jury.
“These two recent events and the publicity surrounding them are significant in [that] it could make it more difficult for jurors to presume Thao, 35, and Kueng, 28, innocent of the state charges,” Cahill wrote in his ruling.
The judge added that postponing the trial should “diminish the impact of this publicity on the defendants’ right and ability to receive a fair trial from an impartial and unbiased jury.”
Lane, 39, pleaded guilty in May to aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. In exchange for the plea, state prosecutors agreed to dismiss the top charge against him of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder.
Under the agreement, prosecutors and Lane’s attorneys will jointly recommend a sentence of 36 months in prison. Had he gone to trial and been convicted on all charges, he faced a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison, according to the plea agreement.
All three defendants were convicted in February by a federal jury on charges of violating George Floyd’s civil rights by failing to intervene or provide medical aid as their senior officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on the back of the handcuffed Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes in the May 25, 2020, incident.
Cahill presided over Chauvin’s state trial last year when he was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison.
Chauvin also pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights and is awaiting sentencing after a judge accepted his plea earlier this month.
Attorneys for Thao and Kueng filed a motion last week asking that if Cahill rejected their request for a change of venue that he delay the trial until after they are sentenced in federal court. While no date has been set for the federal sentencing, attorneys for Thao and Kueng told Cahill they expect it to occur this summer.
There has been no word on whether plea agreements are under consideration by Kueng and Thao in the state case.
During their federal trial, Lane, Kueng and Thao all took the witness stand and each attempted to shift the blame to Chauvin, who was a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Lane told the jury that Chauvin “deflected” all his suggestions to help Floyd and Kueng testified that Chauvin “was my senior officer and I trusted his advice.” Thao testified, “I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out.”