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Use of cameras, sequestration among topics at motions hearing ahead of state trial for ex-Minneapolis officers

Prosecution and defense teams made their arguments Monday regarding the scheduled June trial of three former officers charged in the killing of George Floyd.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — A hearing was held Monday for three former Minneapolis police officers charged in the May 2020 death of George Floyd. 

Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are all charged at the state level with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter (unintentional) while committing a felony, and culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk, in connection to Floyd's death.

The trial for Lane, Kueng and Thao is currently scheduled for June 13, 2022, nearly four months after the three ex-officers were found guilty of violating Floyd's civil rights in a federal trial.

KARE 11's Lou Raguse reports that, following the federal proceeding, many legal observers predicted the state case against the three other officers would be settled out of court, since the penalties in federal court are heftier than the potential sentences in state court.

However, the sentencing date in the federal case still hasn't been scheduled, so everyone is proceeding toward the June 13 state trial for Lane, Thao and Kueng.  

Each side has several pending motions in the state proceeding that will help shape the ground rules for this trial and determine what evidence will be admitted. 

Discussing the use of cameras inside the courtroom for the state proceedings, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill, who also presided over ex-MPD officer Derek Chauvin's trial, said what is discussed Thursday at a Judicial Council meeting will influence the final decision. 

The prosecution cited the pandemic and public interest as reasons to allow them, but argued an overflow room would be necessary should Cahill rule against it. The defense team then said it believes allowing live camera feeds is bad for its clients, and sees the cameras as "a tool the state uses to promote cancel culture." 

Cahill said officials are still deciding on which courtroom to use, adding it's possible they'll use one with extra seating to accommodate more spectators.

Per court records and requests, it is likely that the jury will be handled in a similar way to the panel that deliberated in the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, according to KARE 11's Raguse, who has been following the cases of the ex-officers for nearly two years.

In January 2022, Cahill released a memorandum saying that although he previously opposed allowing cameras in the courtroom, following his experience presiding over Chauvin's trial, he feels they can be "helpful in promoting trust and confidence in the judicial process and are sometimes necessary to safeguard both the defendant’s right to a public trial and the public’s right of access to criminal trials."

"I am not, however, a proponent of removing all limits on the use of cameras," his statement continued.

Cahill also heard arguments for full and partial juror sequestration during Monday's hearing. Defense attorneys said a full sequestration would be needed to give their clients a fair trial, while prosecutors said a full sequestration — that would entail property sequestration in addition to physical — would be too burdensome and expensive.

Further, Cahill ordered that the discovery deadline for potential experts be May 1. In response, prosecutors argued they wouldn't have enough time to review disclosures, while defense attorney Earl Gray called the claim "ridiculous."

Prosecutor Matthew Frank also told Cahill that plea deals had been discussed with defendants, pending orders and sentencing in the federal trial. 

"We did convey a plea offer to the defendants in phone calls the second week of March," Frank said. "The offer had a deadline. That deadline has passed."

According to Raguse, the details of that plea offer will be sealed with the court until further notice.

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