Derek Chauvin’s co-defendants want separate trial after conviction

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Derek Chauvin’s co-defendants want separate trial after conviction

Three ex-Minneapolis cops involved in the death of George Floyd said Tuesday they can’t get a fair federal trial — because of Derek Chauvin’s recent murder conviction.

Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane asked a Minnesota federal court judge to separate their case from Chauvin’s as each man pleaded not guilty on charges that they violated Floyd’s civil rights.

At the virtual hearing, Chauvin’s co-defendants all asked a judge to grant them separate trials from Chauvin claiming that his second-degree murder conviction from April in Floyd’s May 25, 2020 fatal arrest would prejudice their own cases at trial.

“I doubt if you will find anybody in the jury pool that did not know that Derek Chauvin was convicted of killing George Floyd,” said Lane’s lawyer, Earl Gray.

“That is substantially prejudicial in this case,” Gray added. “We should be severed from Derek Chauvin because we should not be saddled or branded with his conviction of murder under similar facts.”

Chauvin was convicted on murder and manslaughter charges in the state case. The three others — who successfully argued for separate trials in state court — head to trial in that case in March on charges of aiding and abetting.

A courtroom sketch of Tuesday’s virtual hearing showing former Minneapolis officers Alexander Kueng with attorney Thomas Plunkett (left), Tou Thao with attorney Robert Paule (center) and Thomas Lane with attorney Earl Gray (right) at the bottom.
A courtroom sketch of Tuesday’s virtual hearing showing former Minneapolis officers Alexander Kueng with attorney Thomas Plunkett (left), Tou Thao with attorney Robert Paule (center) and Thomas Lane with attorney Earl Gray (right) at the bottom.
Cedric Hohnstadt Illustration via REUTERS

On Tuesday, Judge Tony Leung reminded the defendants that it’s easier to get separate trials in state court than in federal court.

“Severance is much more the exception in federal court,” Leung said before the attorneys made their arguments.

Federal prosecutor Manda Sertich said severing the trials isn’t necessary noting that jurors will know about Chauvin’s conviction regardless of “whether or not Mr. Chauvin is sitting in the courtroom.”

Former Minneapolis police officers Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.
Former Minneapolis police officers Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao demand separate trials in the aftermath of Derek Chauvin’s indictment.
Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office
Former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin
Former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the death of George Floyd.
POOL VIA COURT TV/AFP via Getty Images)

Earlier in the hearing, Kueng and Lane’s lawyers also hinted at their defense at trial — saying their clients were new cops and shouldn’t be held responsible for failing to intervene in Floyd’s death.

The lawyers asked that the indictment be changed to remove the claim that Kueng and Lane started as cops in December 2019 — the date when they were technically sworn in. They said the two rookies had just days of experience and were looking to Chauvin, a field training officer, for guidance during Floyd’s arrest.

George Floyd
Former officer Derek Chauvin was seen on video allegedly kneeling against the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd, leading to his death.
Christopher Harris via AP

Gray said Lane “took the oath in 2019. However, he was not making decisions on his own until four days before the incident on May 25.”

Kueng’s lawyer, Thomas Plunkett agreed, adding, “They are just out of recruit school and they were both relying on the field training officer and Mr. Chauvin was a field training pfficer.”

But Sertich argued the indictment should remain as is, noting their start date as cops “comes from records provided by the Minneapolis Police Department. Both former officers were Police Officers as of Dec. 10, 2019.”

Leung asked for the lawyers to submit further written arguments before issuing a ruling.

In the federal case, Chauvin is charged with using unreasonable force. All the defendants are charged with failing to provide medical attention and Thao and Kueng are additionally charged with failing to intervene to stop Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force.

In June, Chauvin was sentenced in his state case to 22 1/2 years in prison.

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