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Former officers anticipate "finger-pointing" in George Floyd case

The state wants the trials held together as one, but the defendants say evidence that helps one of them would hurt the other

MINNEAPOLIS — The attorney for former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin filed a motion opposing a joint trial that would tie his case with three other defendants in the death of George Floyd.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson's motion for a separate trial follows similar motions filed Tuesday by the attorneys for former officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane. 

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd's death in May. Video of Chauvin with his knee on Floyd's neck was seen around the world, and prompted days of unrest in the Twin Cities.  

Co-defendants J. Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao and Thomas Lane are each charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

RELATED: Attorney for former officer Thomas Lane opposes joint trial in George Floyd case

In his motion, Nelson lays out a detailed explanation of case law that boils down to this argument: Chauvin's case is distinctly different than those of the others charged in Floyd's death. He maintains that the defenses for Thao, Kueng and Lane will be “antagonistic,” meaning the defendants will seek to put the blame on each other, forcing the jury to choose who to convict.  "As is evident from pretrial pleadings, the other three defendants are prepared to place the blame for Mr. Floyd’s death squarely on Mr. Chauvin’s shoulders," Nelson writes.

Conversely, Nelson lays out a potential argument in his motion that Kueng and Lane could actually be responsible for Floyd's death as Chauvin believes Floyd was foaming at the mouth, a sign he could have been suffering from a Fentanyl overdose. If Kueng and Lane, who were first on the scene, had chosen to de-escalate instead of struggle with him, or administered an antidote for an opioid overdose, Nelson argues that Floyd may have survived.  

Nelson also writes that due to the murder charges against him, Chauvin's case requires a different burden of proof than his co-defendants, and asserts that his case will require a defense that is distinctly different than those of Thao, Kueng and Lane. 

Kueng's attorney Tom Plunkett in court documents wrote "Kueng will shift blame onto Chauvin during trial," and that in Thao's interview with the BCA, "Thao goes as far as to point to all three officers as having blame, and maintains he was not fully aware what was going on behind him."

George Floyd died while Chauvin held his knee to Floyd's neck, Lane and Kueng held down his legs, and Thao kept away the crowd of people.

The state argues that they "acted in concert," the same evidence will be used against all four at trial, so the cases should be tried all at once.

The former officers argue evidence that might help one of them would hurt the other.

At a scheduled hearing Friday, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill is expected to hear oral arguments on the state's request for a joint trial, as well as defense motions for change of venue and sequestering the jury.


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