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Ground rules set for federal trial of Kueng, Lane, Thao

The three former Minneapolis police officers are charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights on the day of his murder in May of 2020.
Credit: Hennepin County Sheriff's Office
Former Minneapolis police officers (from left to right) J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Three former Minneapolis police officers appeared in a St. Paul federal courtroom Tuesday afternoon, where a judge set the ground rules for their approaching trial on charges they violated the civil rights of George Floyd. 

J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao and their defense attorneys sat before federal court Judge Paul Magnuson, who said a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates will be seated to hear the case. The three former officers will be tried together, in a trial slated to begin Jan. 20. 

The jury selection process is different than in state court. Judge Magnuson explained that a panel of 36 potential jurors will be brought in and questioned by the judge. Both prosecuting and defense attorneys will pass questions to the judge to ask, but will not interact with jury candidates themselves. 

A second panel of 36 will be questioned, and if needed, another, and so on.

Once a pool of 40 potential panelists is passed for cause, prosecutors and the defense team will use their strikes to whittle the number down to the 18 people needed to hear the case. 

KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse says Judge Magnuson also ruled on a number motions, a few in favor of the defense including one to prevent "cumulative" evidence, such as multiple medical witnesses giving the same testimony.  

The judge told the legal teams he would not let the 10-year-old girl who testified at Chauvin's state trial to take the stand, and ruled firefighter Genevieve Hansen cannot testify in her firefighter's uniform, as she did in the Chauvin proceedings. Hansen was in civilian clothes when she tried to convince the former officer to get off George Floyd's neck. 

Also revealed in the pre-trial hearing is the fact no formal plea deal was offered to any of the three defendants. Raguse tweeted that prosecutors said the government was willing to enter into talks, but each former officer indicated they did not want to engage in further discussions on a deal.

Judge Magnuson ended Tuesday's hearing with a long statement about concerns he has with the case as it stands. "I am deeply concerned that this case is getting out of proportion. And I mean that in a very direct way. I mean, 48 witnesses for the government," the judge said. A member of the prosecution team assured Magnuson they would not be calling 48 witnesses, saying the list was a "big picture" of those who might be called to the stand. 

Magnuson also voiced concern about the ongoing COVID situation and courtroom security, saying "anarchy cannot exist and will not be permitted to exist... the rule of law must prevail." He closed by encouraging the government to bring the case "into more definitive perspective... move the case along, and get it tried in a shorter time" to lessen everyone's exposure to COVID and prevent a possible mistrial.  

Last month, fellow former officer Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty to federal charges involving Floyd's death. 

The three former officers have not yet stood trial on additional state charges. 

Both the prosecution and defense have requested that Judge Peter Cahill delay the state's trial, currently scheduled to begin in early March. The request for delay says both sides agree that "a continuance should be granted in the interest of justice."

When the state trial does happen, Judge Cahill ruled that the proceedings will still be livestreamed and/or televised.

At the state level Thao, Lane and Kueng are each charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Chauvin was found guilty of Floyd's murder on June 25, 2021 and sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison. He is currently being held in Minnesota's only maximum security prison, Oak Park Heights.

RELATED: Derek Chauvin pleads guilty to federal charge connected to George Floyd's murder

RELATED: Delay sought in state trial for ex-police officers in George Floyd's death

Watch more on the Trial of Derek Chauvin:

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