Last month, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three charges in the murder of George Floyd. As we await sentencing in the case, new developments have occurred in the case of the three officers charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin in Floyd’s death. The verdict in Chauvin’s trial has led to state prosecutors seeking to add another charge to the mens’ case.
“We think the Chauvin case should settle the matter here,” Neal Katyal, an attorney for the state, said according to NBC News. State prosecutors and attorneys for the men appeared virtually before a panel of three judges on the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Thursday, where prosecutors argued that Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao should be charged with aiding and abetting third-degree murder.
Defense attorney Deborah Ellis argued that it would be legally impossible to add the charge, as third-degree murder is an unintentional act, while aiding and abetting is an intentional act. “While an accomplice can aid a negligent act or even a reckless act, it takes more than that to aid and abet a third-degree depraved mind because you would have to intentionally aid ... an irrational frame of mind of somebody else,” Ellis said.
Katyal straight up called the argument “just wrong,” arguing that if someone knows an act is reckless and they assist with it, that’s aiding and abetting a reckless action. “Principle liability focuses on a defendant’s state of mind vis-a-vis the victim. Whereas accomplice liability focuses on an accomplice’s state of mind vis-a-vis the principle. Was the accomplice intending to aid the principle?” Katyal added.
State prosecutors have requested for the case to be sent back to a lower court so that they can further debate adding the new charges, while the defense has argued that the panel is capable of making the assessment on their own. The judges have 90 days to rule on the prosecution’s request.
Last May, the men were on the scene with Chauvin while he placed his knee on Floyd’s neck and back for over nine minutes, killing him. During the incident, Kueng kneeled on Floyd’s back and Lane held down his legs, which in my non-legal opinion certainly sounds like aiding and abetting a reckless act.
The three men are currently scheduled to face criminal trial in March 2022, with a federal trial alleging they violated Floyd’s civil rights set to begin this August.