In an important victory for the prosecution, a Minneapolis judge ruled Thursday that the four officers charged with the murder of George Floyd, a black man who took some of his last breaths under the knee of a white officer on the corner of a street from Minneapolis to May, will stand trial together.
The judge also ruled that the news media could broadcast the trial, scheduled for next spring, an unusual decision in Minneapolis, where courts are generally closed to cameras. The judge cited the coronavirus pandemic, which limits the number of people who can be present in the courtroom at any time, and the immense national and international interest in the case.
“The protests demanding justice for George Floyd continue,” Hennepin County Judge Peter A. Cahill wrote in his ruling. “Even with some overcrowded courtrooms, the demand from family members, the public and the press to attend the joint trial is expected to surpass the court’s ability to provide meaningful access.
Judge Cahill also said the trial will remain – for now – in the Twin Cities, although he left open the possibility of moving it later if the court is unable to sit a jury untainted by the wide publicity. that the case has already generated.
The defendants, including Derek Chauvin, the white officer who pinned Mr. Floyd to the ground for more than nine minutes, had asked the court for a change of venue, arguing they could not get a fair trial in Minneapolis due to pre-trial publicity and large-scale protests against racial injustice Mr. Floyd’s death sparked in Minneapolis and around the country, as well as around the world.
Experts following the case in Minneapolis said they believe Judge Cahill is determined to keep the case in the Twin Cities, knowing that moving the trial will most likely cause further protests and fears of a less diverse jury. Such a decision would have evoked the story of the Rodney King case in Los Angeles in 1992. The trial against the police officers who beat Mr. King was moved to a largely white suburb, resulting in acquittals on charges. of aggression which led to riots.
Judge Cahill also ordered the jurors to remain anonymous, and said they would be partially sequestered during the trial and ordered to go to a place of safety each morning, from where they would be escorted to the courtroom.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office oversees prosecutions, said in a statement he was satisfied with the court’s decision.
“The murder of George Floyd took place in Minneapolis, and it is right that the accused stand trial in Minneapolis,” he said. “It is also true that they acted in concert with each other, and the evidence against them is similar, so it is fair to put them on trial.”
Mr. Chauvin, who was a 19-year veteran of the police, is charged with second degree murder and second degree manslaughter and faces 40 years in prison if convicted.
The other officers, including two recruits who helped Mr. Chauvin pin Mr. Floyd to the sidewalk outside a convenience store, are charged with aiding and abetting second degree murder. Former officer Tou Thao, who knelt to the side and held off passers-by who shouted that Mr Floyd was having difficulty breathing, is also charged with aiding and abetting second degree murder. The four former officers, who were fired after the incident, have been released on bail.
The two rookie officers, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, were the first on the scene on the evening of May 25, after a convenience store clerk called the police saying Mr. Floyd had attempted to pass a fake $ 20 bill to pay. cigarettes.
From the start Mr Floyd, 46, was restless and resisted being placed in the back of a patrol car, claiming he was claustrophobic. After Mr. Chauvin arrived, Mr. Floyd was placed face down in the street, where he repeatedly said he could not breathe.
As the spectators gathered, one of them captured the scene on a cell phone camera; in a video that was viewed around the world and caused weeks of unrest in U.S. cities, Mr Floyd continued to say he couldn’t breathe and called his mother. By the time the paramedics arrived, Mr. Floyd went limp and appeared to stop breathing. He was later pronounced dead in a hospital.
A lawyer for Mr. Kueng, Thomas C. Plunkett, said that while the judge’s rulings ran counter to their desire for a separate trial and a change of venue, “we are pleased to have the orders so that we can begin to prepare for our trial and present the truth to a jury.
Earl C. Gray, counsel for Mr. Lane, and Eric Nelson, counsel for Mr. Chauvin, declined to comment on the judge’s rulings. A lawyer for Mr. Thao did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The four former agents had called for separate trials and suggested in court documents that they each blamed each other for Mr. Floyd’s death. The prosecution, from the start, has called for a single trial, arguing that multiple trials would traumatize Mr Floyd’s family, eyewitnesses and the community at large, which had to face weeks of unrest on the streets after Mr. Floyd’s death.
In his ruling ordering a trial, Justice Cahill noted that the defense of the four accused rests on similar arguments: that the use of force to subdue Mr. Floyd was justified and that Mr. Floyd’s death was caused by drugs. found in his system and underlying health conditions.
The medical examiner said Mr. Floyd’s death was a homicide due to “cardiopulmonary arrest” in Mr. Chauvin’s knee, with other causes believed to be contributing factors.