A Hennepin County Judge ruled Wednesday that the former Minneapolis police officers charged with killing George Floyd will stand trial together in Minneapolis, rejecting two requests made by their defense attorneys.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said in the 51-page ruling that trying all four defendants together would ease the burden on state prosecutors and the court system, and allow for “this community, this State and the nation to absorb the verdicts for the four defendants at once,” reports ABC News.
Lawyers for former MPD officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng, and Tou Thao had argued that their clients would not be able to get a fair trial in Minneapolis, citing a Sept. 11 hearing in which angry protesters confronted them outside a local courthouse. The attorneys argued that their clients’ safety could be compromised, witnesses intimidated, and jurors swayed by possible crowds.
Judge Cahill was not moved by those arguments, noting that “no corner of the State of Minnesota has been shielded from pretrial publicity regarding the death of George Floyd.”
“Because of that pervasive media coverage, a change of venue is unlikely to cure the taint of potential prejudicial pretrial publicity,” Cahill wrote. He did add, however, that he would revisit the issue if circumstances changed.
Defense attorneys had also sought separate trials for the former officers, due in part to their conflicting accounts about who was in charge at the scene, and ultimately responsible for the death of the 46-year-old Black man. Derek Chauvin, the cop who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, attempted to cast blame on Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, rookie cops who first responded to the call outside a Minneapolis deli on May 25. Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill.
His death, recorded in a video that went viral, sent shockwaves throughout the country and galvanized months of Black Lives Matter protests around the country.
Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for his role in killing Floyd. Lane, Kueng and Thao, all of whom either helped restrain Floyd or watched as he begged for help, were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
On top of being in the public interest, Judge Cahill ruled it was in the interest of justice that all cops be tried together, to “ensure that the jury understands...all of the evidence and the complete picture of Floyd’s death.” Having one trial would also prevent witnesses from having to testify multiple times, he added.
The judge also allowed for the trial to be televised and streamed live—against the wishes of prosecutors—saying it would ensure the defendants’ right to a public trial and allow for spectators (including Floyd’s and the defendants’ families and supporters) to watch the trial without having to allow for COVID-19 spacing restrictions.
Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, attorneys representing Floyd’s family in a civil suit, praised the judge’s ruling on Thursday, CNN reports.
“Trying these officers together will give the jury a complete picture of what happened on the day that George was murdered,” they said in a statement. “Each of these men played a role that ultimately led to his death—whether it was a knee to the neck or denying any intervention as George and onlookers begged for his life.”