MINNEAPOLIS — The State of Minnesota wants to reintroduce third-degree murder in the case against the officers charged in George Floyd's death, after a victory at the Court of Appeals in another high-profile Minnesota case.
Earlier this week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a third-degree murder charge against former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
On Thursday, the state filed a motion to reinstate a third-degree murder charge against Derek Chauvin, the former MPD officer who was filmed holding his knee on Floyd's neck during the fatal encounter.
Attorney General Keith Ellison, who is leading the prosecution against Chauvin and three other former officers, said in his motion that the State wants to reinstate the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin "in light of" the Noor decision.
Ellison said the state also wants to add third-degree murder to the charges against the other officers involved in Floyd's fatal arrest: Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng.
Currently, Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd's death, and the other three former officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Prosecutors originally included third-degree murder in the charges against Chuavin, but Chauvin's attorney succeeded in getting it dismissed for lack of probable cause because "a third-degree murder charge can be sustained only in situations in which the defendant's actions ... were not specifically directed at the particular person whose death occurred."
Ellison argued that the Minnesota Court of Appeals reached the opposite conclusion in its ruling on Noor. The appeals court ruled that "third-degree murder may occur even if the death-causing act endangered only one person."
On Monday, four days later, Derek Chauvin's defense attorney filed a memorandum opposing the motion and asking the judge not to reinstate the charge.
Attorney Eric Nelson took issue with the state calling the Minnesota Court of Appeals decision "precedential," since the court's orders do not become final until the defendant has had a chance to petition the Minnesota Supreme Court to review. Noor's attorney has indicated that he plans to do so.
"Thus, depending on the outcome of the petition for review and a potential supreme court decision, the court of appeals’ opinion in Noor may, in fact, never become precedential," Nelson wrote in his memorandum.
Nelson further argued, "The State's reliance on Noor is misplaced or, at best, premature."
Minnesota law defines third-degree murder as causing a person's death without intent, "by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life."
Ellison asked Judge Peter Cahill to either reinstate the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, or allow the state to amend the complaint. He also asked the judge to allow him to amend the complaints against the other three officers to include third-degree murder.
Right now Chauvin's trial is scheduled to begin March 8, and the other three officers will be tried together in August. Prosecutors have appealed the judge's decision to hold separate trials, asking that they be rejoined.