x
Breaking News
More () »

Minneapolis St. Paul News, Weather, Traffic, Sports | Minneapolis, Minnesota | kare11.com

Judge considers decisions on combined trial, venue, dismissal in George Floyd case

The four former Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd's death appeared in Hennepin County Court on Friday.

MINNEAPOLIS —

  • Judge says no ruling today on defense motions to drop charges
  • Prosecutors ask judge to reconsider decision removing Hennepin Co. Attorney Mike Freeman from prosecution team
  • Judge denies request to allow George Floyd's prior arrests as evidence
  • Judge suggests sending jury questionnaires before deciding on change of venue
  • Protesters gather outside Hennepin County courthouse

4 p.m.

The Minnesota Attorney General's Office and Hennepin County Attorney's Office say they have jointly asked for a reconsideration of Judge Peter Cahill's order removing Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and three other attorneys from the prosecution team in the death of George Floyd.

A court date is still pending for the reconsideration motion.

In Friday's pretrial hearing, Judge Cahill said Freeman and the others violated attorney-witness rules. Cahill said it was "sloppy" for Freeman, Senior Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Patrick Lofton, and Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Andy LeFevour to be present for an interview with a medical examiner without a non-attorney third party present. 

However, in arguing for reconsideration, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank cited a previous Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, saying the third party does not have to be a non-attorney. In addition, Frank argued that Sweasy and Lofton had officially left the case prior to the medical examiner interview, making them valid third parties to the interview.

"The meeting was completely routine and if the ruling stands, would make it nearly impossible for prosecutors to obtain, understand and introduce evidence in a case," The Hennepin County Attorney's Office said in a statement. "Since the Hennepin County attorneys conducted the meeting consistent with the direction of the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, the county attorney’s office is confident that this order will eventually be withdrawn or modified."

12:30 p.m.

A pre-trial hearing has concluded for the former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd in May.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek 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 and other communities. 

Fellow former officers 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.

In Friday's hearing, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill said he would not immediately rule on defense motions to dismiss charges.

In addition, no immediate decision was made on motions to combine the four cases into one trial, or a motion to change the location of any trial.

Cahill did make several other rulings. In one, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman was disqualified from participating in the prosecution due to his presence at an interview with a medical examiner. 

(Update, 4 p.m.: The Hennepin County Attorney's Office says it has been granted a reconsideration of the above ruling, though no date has been set.)

In addition, the judge denied a request to allow two of George Floyd's earlier arrests to be used as evidence, though one of those cases may be revisited at trial.

Any other decisions on today's motions and oral arguments will come in writing. Judge Cahill has said those decisions will be made by Oct. 15. 

No date was given for any additional pre-trial hearings. Any trial or trials would begin in March 2021.

"We demand justice for George Floyd," family attorney Ben Crump said following the hearing. "We just sat through a very emotional hearing where people tried to kill George Floyd a second time. They made all sorts of foolish allegations, talking about, he died of a drug overdose. They're trying to claim the knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds had nothing to do with his death. They are trying to say that the knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds was reasonable. They are trying to claim some asinine theory about an overdose. The only overdose that killed George Floyd was an overdose of excessive force and racism of the Minneapolis Police Department." 

Credit: Lou Raguse
George Floyd's family and legal team speak after the pre-trial for the four former Minneapolis police officers charged with his death.

"We sat in this courtroom and we heard so many lies about my brother," said Floyd's brother, Rodney Floyd. "He's an uncle, he's a father, he's a friend, a pillar of his community in Houston, Texas ... people of Minnesota loved him too."

"Just sitting here being in Minnesota is hard," Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd said. "We shouldn't have to be here because of George. George should be alive. He didn't die of natural causes. He died because of a knee being on his neck ...He did not die of an overdose."

Another brother, Terrence Floyd, said he was angry after the hearing, but encouraged others in the community to remain peaceful.

"The one thing I want is accountability," Terrence Floyd said. 

12 p.m.

In preparation for a possible trial or trials in March 2021, Judge Peter Cahill said he's planning on taking two weeks for jury selection and four weeks for trial, though that timeline could change as any trial date approaches. 

Any trial or trials still depend on the judge's rulings on motions for combining the cases into one trial, change of venue, and whether charges will be dismissed against any of the defendants. The judge made it clear that there would be no ruling on dismissals today.

Cahill also said attorneys and the court should continue to plan to have COVID safety restrictions in place next March.

No decision was made on whether the judge would allow longer than recommended sentences if the former officers are convicted. More filings on that subject are expected at a later date.

RELATED: State seeks longer potential sentences against former officers in George Floyd case

11 a.m.

Judge Peter Cahill has disqualified Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and a few other prosecutors from the county attorney's office from participating in the George Floyd case as lawyers.

Judge Cahill said it was "sloppy" for Freeman and the other prosecutors to be present during an interview of medical examiner Dr. Andrew Baker. Cahill says they are now considered witnesses as a result, and defense or prosecution attorneys can call them to testify at the trial.

According to a court filing Hennepin County prosecutors should have had a non-lawyer witness present during the interview with the medical examiner.

(Update, 4 p.m.: The Hennepin County Attorney's Office says it has been granted a reconsideration of the above ruling, though no date has been set.)

In a separate ruling Judge Cahill said he would not allow George Floyd's 2004 arrest in Texas to be used as evidence; he also denied a request to enter a May 2019 traffic stop in Minneapolis as evidence, although he suggested his decision on the 2019 case could be revisited at trial.

Thomas Lane's attorney Earl Gray argued that Floyd showed similar behavior in the 2019 traffic stop as he did in the May police interaction, saying that Floyd didn't immediately show his hands. Gray says that corroborates circumstantial evidence in the 2020 stop prior to Floyd's death, and could justify former officer Thomas Lane's approach to Floyd's car.

J. Alexander Kueng's attorney Thomas Plunkett also argued the 2019 traffic stop was relevant because he claims Floyd ingested drugs prior to the 2019 stop, and the defense will argue his did the same thing before former officers Lane and Kueng approached his vehicle in May 2020.

In another ruling, Judge Cahill said prosecutors would need to give defense attorneys the autopsy reports from a private medical examiner hired by George Floyd's family if the state wants to call those medical examiners as witnesses in any trial. Cahill made a similar ruling about an Armed Forces medical examiner report that agreed with the Hennepin County findings, saying if prosecutors want the testimony at trial they'll need to turn over the full reports to the defense.

10 a.m.

During arguments about potential changes of venue in the cases of the four officers, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill suggested the court would need to send questionnaires to potential jurors to measure the impact of pre-trial publicity.

Former officer Tou Thao's attorney, Robert Paule, argued that notifying people in advance that they could serve on the jury could be problematic, as they could talk to other people about it. Judge Cahill said the court would be more subtle in the process.

Paule also said that people everywhere have heard about the George Floyd case, and argued that local officials and the Minneapolis police chief have already affected a potential jury pool with public comments made in the wake of Floyd's death. He claims that would be lessened if the trial was moved out of the Twin Cities area.

Paule also claimed that any decision by jurors in Minneapolis could be affected by concerns about riots if they vote to acquit. However, the judge did not appear influenced by that argument.

"If I move this to Moorhead, they don’t have to worry because it will be Minneapolis that goes up in flames?" Cahill said. "I’m not going to entertain that."

Cahill added that jurors are instructed not to consider the effect of their verdict in making any decisions.  

The judge appeared to signal that any change of venue decision will be delayed until the questionnaires can determine if a potential Hennepin County jury would be too biased.

RELATED: Derek Chauvin's lawyers file to dismiss murder charges and change venue

For the prosecution, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank said a jury was able to be seated in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohammed Noor. Judge Cahill responded that the Floyd case has received more publicity, but noted that attorneys often believe the public consumes all details in cases, when he believes the reality is that people forget many details and can still be fair.

Frank also argued that mailing jury questionnaires could present problems as well, with people trying to get out of jury duty as they would not want to deliver a verdict on the high profile case. 

In separate arguments about sequestering a potential jury, Judge Cahill said that "it appears some kind of sequestration will be needed." He suggested that, at a minimum, jurors would be kept together in a hotel during deliberations, but also said "I think it would be almost cruel to keep them for weeks at a time" during a lengthy trial. The judge said jurors would be kept shielded from the public, particularly if the trial is held at the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis.

Reporting from inside the courthouse, KARE 11's Lou Raguse said it appeared only Thao's attorney was arguing for full jury sequestration.

The judge also heard arguments on juror anonymity, where attorneys would know juror names, but they would be identified by number in the courtroom. 

Prosecutor Matthew Frank argued against an anonymous jury, citing potential issues should the case go to an appeal. However, Judge Cahill expressed concern for jurors themselves.

"What I'm more concerned about here is there are external threats to the jurors' safety and impartiality," Cahill said.

The judge says he fears there may be attempts to contact and influence the jury if their identities are known.

"They may feel pressure and their impartiality might be influenced. Don't you agree with that?" Cahill asked the prosecution.

"We don't know that right now. The public outcry is directed at the defendant. The public wants the trial to proceed," Frank responded. 

Defense attorneys appeared to be split on the juror anonymity issue. Thomas Lane's attorney Earl Gray argued in favor of anonymous jurors. He expressed concerns about threats that he's received himself, and said he fears that jurors could face protests similar to one at the home of Minneapolis police union head Bob Kroll.

However, J. Alexander Kueng's attorney Thomas Plunkett said he's opposed to an anonymous jury. He pointed to the Noor case, saying that a similar anonymity setup had the opposite effect as intended, sending a message to the jury that they're in danger.

Attorneys for Thao and Chauvin also argued in favor of an anonymous jury.

Judge Cahill said he would likely release the names of jurors upon the completion of any trial, except if there was civil unrest in the wake of any verdict.

9 a.m.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill began Friday's hearing by informing the attorneys and defendants that he will not make a ruling today on defense motions to drop charges in the case. Cahill asked that nobody "read into" the fact that the other motions will be heard.

Prosecutors were first up in the hearing, with Neal Katyal presenting arguments for why the trial for former Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao should be a joint trial. Frank pointed to the nature of the charges, the impact on the victim and eyewitness, potential prejudices, and the interests of justice. 

The state also argues that separate trials would burden the court and take months, if not years, delaying justice and accumulating publicity in the case. Katyal also told the court that putting eyewitness and Floyd's family through four separate trials would be "traumatizing."

RELATED: State files motion to have all four officers in George Floyd's death in one trial

Judge Cahill questioned Thao's attorney, Robert Paule, who suggested there would be different evidence if his client had his own trial, with the judge asking whether the bulk of evidence would be similar. Paule responded "there are going to be side attacks" if the cases are heard in a joint trial. He said his client never touched George Floyd, making Thao's case different, and claims the defenses for the four officers could become "antagonistic."

Paule also disagreed with the state's contention that separate trials would accumulate publicity and taint a jury pool, arguing that state has already done so with its public statements in the case.

RELATED: Defense attorneys oppose joint trial in George Floyd case

Meanwhile, protesters were gathered outside the courtroom, demanding justice for George Floyd.

8:30 a.m.

The killing of George Floyd sparked protests across the globe. Friday, the world's eyes will be on Minneapolis again as four former Minneapolis police officers charged in his death go to court for a motions hearing that could seriously impact their trials. 

Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Keung and Tou Thao will appear before Judge Peter Cahill in Hennepin County Court for pre-trial proceedings, starting at 9 a.m. CT. Cahill will hear arguments about the state's request for a joint trial, as well as defense motions for change of venue and sequestering the jury.

KARE 11's Lou Raguse posted on Twitter that protesters demanding justice for George Floyd, and that the officers be convicted were already in the streets outside the courthouse when he arrived before 7:30 a.m. The crowd of several dozen could be heard chanting "No justice, no peace," and "Say his name... George Floyd."

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

The state argues that because the same evidence will be used against all four officers in court, the cases should all be tried at once. Defense attorneys say a joint trial would result in all of the officers blaming each other for Floyd's death.

Although Friday's proceedings could last much of the day, Judge Cahill is not expected to rule on the motions, indicating he would make most of his decisions by Oct. 15. 

Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump has scheduled a press conference immediately following the motions hearing. 

The trial, or trials of the officers is set for March.