Attorneys for the four Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s death argued that their clients should each get a separate trial, while prosecutors contended Friday they should be tried together, in part to spare Floyd’s loved ones further and unnecessary trauma.
Friday marked the first time Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao appeared in court together.
Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter after pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck as the Black 46-year-old said he could not breathe before becoming motionless on May 25. Lane, Kueng and Thao are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Requests to dismiss charges won’t be addressed Friday. A trial is scheduled for March.
At the court hearing, the defense presented a motion to move the trial from Minneapolis. The judge also discussed to what extent the jury might be sequestered or anonymous.
The state on Friday presented several arguments for a joint trial.
The evidence and charges are similar, the state said, and witnesses would likely remain the same but might not be available for several trials that could span years. Four trials would delay justice and tax the court, said the state. And the verdict of first trial would have the possibility of influencing the next three.
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Prosecutor Neal Katyal added that “forcing the family, victims and eye-witnesses to go through not just one, not two, three but four … does force reliving of the trauma.”
“I’ve seen a lot in my life, I can barely watch these videos,” Katyal said, referring to multiple videos showing nearly all angles of the minutes and seconds leading to Floyd’s last breaths.
A joint trial would also allow the public to absorb and react to verdicts all at once, the state said.
Defense attorneys want the trials for all four officers to be kept separate so that each officer can be tried on his own evidence, arguing that evidence against one officer could affect another’s right to a fair trial.
A lawyer for Floyd’s family accused defense attorneys of seeking a new venue to gain a more advantageous jury pool.
“The goal in them trying to change venues is to try to find as many jurors as they can find that don’t look like George Floyd,” attorney Jeff Storms said outside court. “And that is the only goal.”
Defense lawyers also told Judge Cahill on Friday that they’ll be seeking to introduce evidence of Floyd’s past dealings with police, in hopes of showing that officers had reason to use force.
And Thomas Plunkett, who represents Kueng, specifically said an overdose of drugs could be a reasonable explanation for Floyd’s death.
“The only overdose that killed George Floyd was an overdose of excessive force and racism of the Minnesota, Minneapolis Police Department,” family lawyer Benjamin Crump said outside court.
“It is a blatant attempt to kill George Floyd a second time. They killed the person and then they assassinate (his) character.”
The case is being prosecuted by lawyers under Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
Several prosecutors under Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman had been assisting before Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill disqualified four lawyers from Freeman’s staff Friday from being involved in the case.
The county prosecutors had interviewed medical examiners without any other witnesses, leaving those attorneys open to be called as witnesses by the defense. Cahill called that “sloppy” work.
Floyd’s death sparked protests all over the country and the world and has led to calls for police reform and racial justice.
A few dozen demonstrators gathered Friday morning outside of the courthouse, chanting “No justice, no peace” and “Say his name… George Floyd.”