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Litany of motions heard ahead of trial of former MPD officers this month for the murder of George Floyd


A litany of 170 motions were argued in Hennepin County District Court ahead of the joint trial of two former Minneapolis police officers charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd, and who are already serving federal sentences for violations of Floyd’s civil rights.

Former officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao waived their right to appear at hearings on Thursday and Friday. Kueng, 29, is being held at federal prison in Elkton, Ohio and Thao, 36, remains at Federal Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Their trial is scheduled for October 24, beginning with a scheduled two weeks of jury selection. Judge Peter Cahill expects the trial to end on December 16.

Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, suggested jury selection could be difficult because “every member of society…has heard of this case” and seen much of the evidence in Derek Chauvin’s trial.

The witnesses will largely be a repeat of that trial and the federal trial, with a few exceptions like an Ohio State University aviation safety professor who will draw parallels between pilots and officers on the “duty to intervene.” Prosecutors objected to the witness despite Cahill allowing it.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors have had a familiar debate over expert testimony about “excited delirium”, which is a controversial diagnosis usually referring to someone suffering from a state of severe agitation. Cahill reiterated his skepticism about his introduction to the trial.

In the federal trial of then-officers Thao, Kueng and Thomas Lane, the defense tried to argue that the officers were on their training when responding to Floyd on May 25, 2020. Lane – a rookie officer at the scene with Kueng – was heard on the body camera video saying he was “concerned about excited delirium or something else”.

Minneapolis police were trained on the term and how to handle it as recently as last year, although Mayor Jacob Frey said it was no longer part of MPD training. The country’s largest association of professional doctors said it was too broad a term often misapplied to justify excessive police force or unnecessary sedatives.

Floyd died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for over nine minutes as Lane held his legs and Kueng knelt on his back. Thao stopped bystanders from intervening during the standoff around the corner in south Minneapolis.

Lane was sentenced Sept. 21 in Hennepin County District Court. He pleaded guilty in May to avoid this upcoming state trial and instead served three years in prison for his role in Floyd’s murder, but Kueng and Thao rejected the same offer. The two former officers could have served their sentences concurrently with their federal sentences of three years for Kueng and 3½ years for Thao.

“It would be a lie and a sin for me to accept a plea deal,” Thao said during the August hearing.

Chauvin was found guilty in Hennepin County District Court last April and was sentenced to a 22.5-year state sentence in June for murder. He pleaded guilty to federal charges in December.

Thao and Kueng face two counts: accessory to second degree murder and accessory to manslaughter. If found guilty on both counts, they could face at least 16 years in prison.

During hearings this week for the last remaining trial stemming from the killing of Floyd that sparked an international protest against police brutality and racial justice, prosecutors decided to allow expert testimony on the unreasonableness of the use of force by the officers, which is the central issue in this case. . They aim to “prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that George Floyd did not die of a drug overdose, an enlarged heart, carbon monoxide or any other mechanism of death suggested by the defendants. to the jury,” prosecutors argued in motions.

State tried to bar jurors from seeing MPD training evidence on fentanyl because prosecutor Danielle Desaulniers Stempel said Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson used it to argue causation doctor with the pills in Floyd’s possession and alleging he ingested enough to kill him when toxicologists proved otherwise. Cahill denied the motion to limit this evidence.

Several experts in use-of-force training will make a reappearance, such as MPD Inspector Katie Blackwell, who leads the MPD training unit and told jurors in the federal trial that former officers defied training when they helped restrain Floyd. But Paule showed slides from the department’s excited delirium training that included videos and photos of other officers immobilizing suspects with their knees.

Attorney Tom Plunkett pushed back against Blackwell’s testimony, calling the field training “incompetent”, but Cahill will allow his testimony to offer an opinion based on experience and training. Plunkett argued that this was not the same training that Kueng and Lane had received.

There will also be testimony from familiar bystanders who will not be allowed to say how witnessing Floyd’s murder made them feel. The defense successfully petitioned the court to prohibit the state from questioning witnesses to elicit any emotional response.

“We’re not calling these people to cry on the stand,” prosecutor Matthew Frank said, adding that it was emotionally distressing and difficult to relive as a witness.

A 9-year-old girl at the time of Floyd’s death was among the crowd of bystanders lining the sidewalk and calling for officers to help Floyd is on the state’s witness list again. But defense attorneys tried to ban his testimony.

“We don’t need the jury to be held by the hand of a 9-year-old,” said Thao’s attorney Natalie Paule, who said there was video of the girl’s phone to show the jury what she had seen.

Prosecutor Nathaniel Zelinsky said the purpose of having the girl testify was to show that it was human beings who witnessed this, and that if she could say that Floyd was in medical distress, officers should have recognized him as well. .

Cahill will allow the girl to testify, as well as former MPD leader Medaria Arradondo, who should be permanently replaced. Prosecutors are allowed to ask how he came to fire the officers the day after Floyd’s murder, but they can’t point to any civil litigation or settlement with Floyd’s family.

Defense attorneys tried to limit prosecutors to one expert witness per area of ​​expertise, but the state highlighted the trial of Chauvin and former MPD officer Mohamed Noor in the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. The district court in both cases allowed expert testimony in multiple use of force.

Lawyers for Thao have also sought to block Darnella Frazier from testifying because of awards the teenager received for filming Floyd’s death, or passerby and firefighter Genevieve Hansen from testifying in uniform to avoid swaying the jury.

Defense attorneys believe all bystander footage is prejudicial, but like previous trials, these videos seen around the world will be played before the jury in this trial.

startribune Gt Itly

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