A former Minneapolis police officer accused in the death of George Floyd in the Minnesota city will stand trial alone, while his three former colleagues also accused in the deadly police custody incident will be tried together, prosecutors said.
The separate trials are necessary because of limitations on physical space during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, according to an order filed Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court.
Judge Peter Cahill said it is “impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions” given how many lawyers and support personnel the four defendants say would be present.
The trial for Derek Chauvin, 44, is scheduled to take place on March 8, while Thomas Lane, 37, J. Alexander Kueng, 26, and Tou Thao, 34, will be tried together on Aug. 23.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter. Lane, Kueng, and Thao are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter.
A defense attorney for Lane said he believed a separate trial would be better for his client, while the other defense attorneys either declined to comment or did not return messages, The Associated Press reported.
Legal observers say the change benefits Chauvin’s co-defendants, who will get a preview of what the state’s witnesses will say and more time to prepare. They’ll also blame Chauvin, who won’t be on trial with them to push back.
In a ruling issued in December 2020, Cahill said that he is permitting video coverage of the trial due to immense global interest in the case and limited courthouse space amid the “unique and unprecedented situation” brought about by the CCP virus pandemic.
Floyd, an African American man, died on May 25 while he was handcuffed face-down on the streets of Minneapolis.
His death was classified by a county medical examiner as a homicide, with his heart stopping while he was restrained by police and his neck compressed. A summary report listed fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use under “other significant conditions” but not under “cause of death.”
According to prosecutors’ notes, Hennepin County Medical Examiner Andrew Baker told prosecutors that absent other apparent causes of death, it “could be acceptable” to rule the death an overdose, based on the level of fentanyl in Floyd’s system. A separate autopsy commissioned for Floyd’s family concluded he died of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression.
Floyd’s death sparked new protests in Minneapolis and across the nation. Some of the protests fueled by alleged police brutality and racial inequities evolved into violent riots that have claimed dozens of lives and cost cities and businesses in the United States millions of dollars in property damages.
Epoch Times reporter Isabel van Brugen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.