A Hennepin County judge has made some major rulings in the case against four former Minneapolis police officers accused of killing George Floyd.
Judge Peter Cahill issued a 51-page ruling Thursday morning, saying the trial for Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane will be held jointly in Hennepin County. This ruling is preliminary, and future arguments could still change that. Stearns County was on the shortlist of potential trial venues if the judge decided to move it.
The reason the ruling is considered preliminary is mainly due to safety concerns. During a pretrial hearing on September 11th, attorneys and the former officers were verbally and physically harassed. Lane’s car was also damaged, and one protester also allegedly had a gun with them. Cahill said better safety planning is needed and not a change of venue.
He added to the ruling that “No corner of Minnesota has been shielded from pretrial publicity” and that public opinion surveys are underway as a better gauge to see if a fair trial in Hennepin County is still possible.
Cahill also said the trial would be televised. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing will be observed in the courtroom, leaving little space for family, friends, and the media to observe. Minnesota law does not allow for cameras to automatically be allowed into courtrooms. Attorneys must petition the court for audio and video recordings to be made public. The four former officers asked for cameras in the courtroom, and defense attorneys argued it would add to transparency, but prosecutors, including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, argued against it. The prosecution said cameras could change how evidence is presented, intimidate witnesses, and would “create more problems than they will solve.”
There are strict rules in place for camera access. Jurors will not be shown, and any witness under 18 cannot be shown on video, but audio is allowed. Members of George Floyd’s family will also not be shown unless they consent to it. Zooming in on tables, attorneys or defendants is also not allowed, and microphones will not be permitted at counsel tables.
The four will be tried together, even after defense attorneys argued against that, saying the four may point fingers at each other. Thao, Kueng, and Lane are all charged with two counts of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second degree manslaughter. Chauvin is charged with second degree unintentional murder and second degree manslaughter. Cahill said there is no evidence the four would turn on each other and added four separate trials would also cause undue stress on Floyd’s family.
Ellison has not yet said if he will appeal any of the rulings but did issue a statement saying,
“I’m satisfied by the court’s decisions today. The murder of George Floyd occurred in Minneapolis, and it is right that the defendants should be tried in Minneapolis. It is also true that they acted in concert with each other, and the evidence against them is similar, so it is right to try them in one trial.
“These rulings reflect a measured and thoughtful application of the law. Taken with recent ruling sustaining almost all of the original charges against the defendants, including the most serious, the rulings today represent another significant step forward in the pursuit of justice for George Floyd and for our community.”
The trial is set to start on March 8th.
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