Defense objects to holding one trial for all 4 ex-cops in death of George Floyd

The defense attorneys representing all four of the former Minneapolis police officers have filed an objection to the state’s motion to join all four cases and hold one trial in the death of George Floyd.

On Aug. 12, prosecutors filed a motion to join the cases of the four Minneapolis police officers charged in the police killing of George Floyd. The move means there would be one trial for all the officers, rather than four separate trials. On Tuesday, attorneys representing Thomas Lane, Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao all filed objections to joining the four cases.

Defense attorney Earl Gray, who is representing Lane, wrote that a joinder of the cases would cause “extreme prejudice” for Lane.

“Thomas Lane enjoys the right to a complete defense and will not be afforded this right should his case be joined with the other three officers,” Gray wrote in the Sept. 8 objection. “There are very likely going to be antagonistic defenses presented at the trial. It is plausible that all officers have a different version of what happened and officers place blame on one another. The jury would have to choose between the defendants' testimonies to reach their verdict…The defenses are inconsistent and the cases cannot be tried together.”

The defense team representing J. Alexander Kueng made a similar argument of "potential prejudice" and also claimed that there is not enough evidence showing the officers worked in "close concert with one another."

"Whether Kueng acted in concert with the other officers is key to the case," read the objection. "Just because all four of the individuals charged in this case are police officers does not mean that the officers were acting in concert."

Tou Thao's defense shared many of the same concerns for their client, but also argued a trial combining all four cases would bring all the legal teams together, putting an "unnecessarily large group of people" in one room amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to possible health concerns, the defense argued social distancing could cause other impacts on the trial.

"If said attorneys are planning on attending trial the State will be placing other parties in contact with those traveling from outside of Minnesota," read the filing. "While Defense cannot speak for the jury, Court staff, witnesses, or State, Defense notes that at least one person on Defense has a comorbidity."

Derek Chauvin's defense team argues he should be tried separately because he is facing different charges compared to the other three and the other defendants will present “antagonistic” defenses at trial.

"The other defendants do not face this charge or a charge of aiding and abetting third-degree murder," read the memo filed on behalf odf Chauvin. "It is, therefore, possible, that the other defendants, who have a direct interest in Mr. Chauvin being found not guilty of felony murder or unintentional manslaughter, could work together to imply that Mr. Chauvin is guilty of third degree murder."

Floyd died on May 25 while being detained by Minneapolis police officers. The four officers involved were fired and are now charged in his death. Derek Chauvin, the officer seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck in a bystander video, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

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In the August filing, prosecutors argued the following four factors strongly support the motion to join the four cases: 

  • The charges and evidence against all four defendants are similar 
  • Eyewitnesses and family members are likely to be traumatized by multiple trials 
  • Defendants will not be prejudiced by joining the cases because their defenses are not antagonistic
  • Separate trials would cause delay and burden the state, the court and witnesses and publicity related to the jury’s verdict may run the risk of prejudicing the jury pool in subsequent trials 

The next hearing in this case is scheduled to take place at 9 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 11.

All four officers have now filed a change of venue request with the court, seeking to move their trials out of Hennepin County. Lane's attorney suggested in a filing Tuesday that a trial be held in Washington or Dakota County. Kueng's attorney has suggested Stearns County, Thao's attorney has suggested Clay, Crow Wing or St. Louis County and Chauvin has only requested a trial be held outside of Hennepin or Ramsey County.