J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao were charged last summer with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. They are set to stand trial together in August.
Lane and Kueng helped Chauvin pin Floyd facedown on the street during an arrest attempt outside a convenience store in Minneapolis in May 2020. Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes while Floyd repeatedly stated he couldn’t breathe and eventually ceased speaking, moving and breathing.
Thao, Chauvin’s partner at the time, stood between the officers and a group of bystanders filming the violent arrest. As Floyd gasped for air, Thao callously told the onlookers that Floyd’s arrest was an example of “why you don’t do drugs.”
After a weekslong, closely watched trial, Chauvin was convicted Tuesday of second- and third-degree murder as well as second-degree manslaughter. Here’s how those guilty verdicts could impact the other former officers’ trial, according to legal experts.
Chauvin’s conviction isn’t something that can be introduced as evidence in the other officers’ trial, meaning the state will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a new jury that Chauvin murdered Floyd.
Though prosecutors can present the same videos and witnesses they tapped for Chauvin’s trial, several key factors will be different, including the defense attorneys and the jurors. (Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over Chauvin’s trial, will do the same in the other former officers’ trial.)
“The defendants in this case … can only be found guilty if in their trial it’s proved that they aided and abetted Chauvin’s criminal conduct, which is going to have to be reproved,” said Kurland, a former federal prosecutor for the state of California. “And that is where it gets a little bit dicey.”
Farmer said there are “strong incentives on both sides” to enter plea negotiations. He said he expects the defense attorneys to “think really long and hard about whether they want to go to trial,” adding, however, it’s unclear what kind of potential plea deals would even be on the table.
Ultimately, it’s too early to tell, according to both Kurland and Farmer.
Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, a sociology professor at Brown University and a criminal justice expert, said she thought the officers were more likely to stand trial, given what unfolded after the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald.
Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder in 2018. But three officers who were tried for allegedly conspiring and lying to protect Van Dyke were acquitted in a subsequent trial. Those officers, who are also white, were accused of writing in official reports that McDonald had tried to stab several officers. Video recorded by the officers’ body cameras contradicted that account.
Just as Eric Nelson did in Chauvin’s trial, it’s likely the defense attorneys for the three former officers will file motions for a change of venue and jury sequestration given the high-profile nature of the proceedings.
“They’d be hard-pressed to find another jurisdiction where there hasn’t been saturation coverage” of the Chauvin trial, Farmer said. “It would certainly be in their interest to say that all of this is too soon and the judge may be sympathetic of that.”
Another potential move the officers might consider would be to elect a bench trial, in which the trial takes place only in front of a judge and there is no jury. The three officers accused of covering up Van Dyke’s conduct in the McDonald murder opted for a bench trial and were acquitted.
To Gonzalez Van Cleve, the defense’s potential preference for a bench trial could come down to a judge’s “prosecutorial mindset” and how that might bode well for the former police officers being tried.
“There is a shared culture between prosecutors and their partners in law enforcement,” she said. “And there are still many judges who … believe the ‘bad apple’ narrative that’s been part of the PR script that police departments across the nation continue to rely upon.”
This content was originally published here.