With Derek Chauvin convicted of murder for the death of George Floyd, activists and the family are turning their attention to this summer’s trial for the other three officers involved in their arrest in May 2020.
All three have already tried to divert responsibility to Chauvin, by far the highest ranking officer on the scene.
Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao face trial in August on charges of complicity in both second-degree murder and second-degree murder.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill ordered that they be tried together, but separately from Chauvin, to reduce the number of people in the courtroom amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the three weigh their strategies, legal experts say they will surely be watching what kind of prison time he receives. Chauvin in his sentence of June 16: up to 30 years, although probably less.
Minnesota law provides the same penalties for aiding and inciting murder or manslaughter as for the act itself.
They will also take into account that the juries took less than 24 hours to find Chauvin guilty of all charges. That could increase the pressure to consider a settlement with the prosecution.
This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Minnesota Sheriff’s Office shows Officers Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office via Globe Live Media, file)
“The factual differences between Chauvin and the other three are what should drive this ”, said Tom Heffelfinger, a former federal prosecutor in Minnesota.
Experts said the best Lane, Kueng and Thao can hope for is a 12-person jury who thinks that Chauvin is guilty, but they are not so sure what roles the other three agents played.
And they said the evidence against all three is weaker than the evidence against Chauvin, which provides opportunities for your attorneys.
“I would expect the theme of the three of them to be, ‘That’s a really bad thing Chauvin did. I did not like. I am not responsible for what happened ‘”, said former Ramsey County prosecutor Susan Gaertner.
Prosecutors declined to discuss his case. Lawyers for Lane and Kueng also declined, and Thao’s lawyer did not return a message seeking comment. But his past presentations and the evidence offer clues to likely strategies.
Lane and Kueng can argue that they were rookies, in just their first week as full-blown cops, and felt the need to give in to Chauvin, his training officer, when he immobilized the neck of Floyd against the ground with his knee for almost 9 1/2 minutes as he repeatedly yelled that he couldn’t breathe before falling silent, then flaccid.
“Those two rookies have a different facial defense and a very real factual defense, compared to Chauvin”, dijo Heffelfinger.
Lane might have the best defense. Body camera video shows that he asked the other officers if they should put Floyd on your side, and Chauvin he said no.
Local defense attorney Joe Friedberg said the evidence at the Chauvin showed that Lane was “Trying to use as little force as possible” before Chauvin come and take over.
Kueng can be heard informing Chauvin at a time he couldn’t find the pulse of Floyd.
“They are raising questions about what was happening and if they should be doing something different,” said another local defense attorney, Brock Hunter. “It’s not as clear as I think the evidence against Chauvin was,” added.
But so much Chauvin as Kueng kept restraint, and body camera video shows the latter holding one of Kueng’s handcuffed hands. FloydAn action that medical experts for the prosecution testified made it even more difficult for the African American to breathe.
Thao can argue that it was crowd control, keeping an agitated group of about 15 spectators at a safe distance, and that he largely had his back to the other officers and Floyd.
“Your defense could be, ‘I was only present and it takes more than presence to commit a crime,'” dijo Heffelfinger.
A protester holds a banner with a photo of George Floyd on the first day of former police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP). (ANGELA WEISS /)
But one of the bystanders Thao specifically ordered to back off was Genevieve Hansen, a firefighter from Minneapolis who can be heard on video repeatedly pleading with officers to check the pulse of Floyd.
Hansen wept on the witness stand at the trial of Chauvin as he described his frustration at not being able to come to the aid of Floyd.
The swift condemnation of Chauvin it stimulated speculation about agreements with the prosecution.
Heffelfinger said prosecutors can be open to that because they are aware of potential weaknesses in the cases against all three.
“Prosecutors know all of this, so this is a good time for all parties to consider reaching an agreement over the next two to three months,” He said.
Gaertner said prosecutors will feel pressured not to reach a plea deal that activists could see as a way to lightly leave officers.
But he said he hopes they will consider settlements that avoid a trial, particularly given the stress and cost of the just-completed trial that transformed parts of Minneapolis in a militarized area.
“Clearly, these three defendants are significantly less guilty than Chauvin”, He said. “And that must be taken into account. Another rehearsal will be very disturbing, expensive and I am not sure if it is the best for the public “, precise.
But Friedberg said he doesn’t expect a deal.
“None of them will ever plead guilty,” Friedberg predicted. “They have three really good attorneys who are extremely aggressive attorneys. I have no doubt that they will go to trial and claim that they were completely unaware of the depths of what he was doing. Derek Chauvin“, assured.