With Derek Chauvin convicted and locked up awaiting sentencing, the three former Minneapolis police officers accused of helping him murder George Floyd await their own judicial reckonings with an August trial looming.
J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death outside Cup Foods last May 25. They are scheduled for trial Aug. 23.
Initially, the four former cops were set to be tried together, but Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill ordered Chauvin tried first. He faced the most serious charges, and the jury convicted him of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter Tuesday afternoon after beginning deliberations late Monday.
"I would think the other three defendants would be highly motivated to reach a plea agreement," former Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said. "To find a jury in August, after all that's gone on, that could really be fair to these three defendants seems like a very tough task."
No one expects the state to dismiss the cases against the three, but criminal defense attorney Mike Brandt said the state "may make the calculus: Do we want to go through this all again or do we want to make a deal?"
But there's the real question of whether a deal could be reached that would be acceptable to the defendants and the state. The three remaining defendants were all in different positions as the incident unfolded and led to Floyd dying on the ground.
Kueng and Lane, both rookies in their first week, were the first to arrive at Cup Foods after receiving a call of an alleged counterfeit $20 bill used to buy cigarettes. Lane approached and drew his gun on Floyd as Floyd sat behind the wheel of a parked Mercedes SUV. After Floyd was handcuffed, Kueng led him across the street and sat Floyd on the ground, leaning against the wall of a building.
As Kueng and Lane struggled to get Floyd into the back of their squad vehicle, Chauvin arrived with his partner that day, Thao. Within minutes, Floyd was on the ground under Chauvin's knee. Kueng held Floyd's midsection while Lane was on his legs, according to body-worn camera footage from the scene.
Thao stood watch, keeping the upset bystanders away from the other three officers and Floyd.
National Urban League president Marc Morial, who was in town for the Chauvin verdict, said the prosecutions of the other three officers may not get as much attention as Chauvin's but are critical because they were "complicit in this nine-minute crucifixion and torture in the streets."
Their role in Floyd's death "strikes directly at the heart of the problem with policing in America," Morial said in an interview. "A message has to be sent that it's OK for an officer witnessing an act of police brutality to intervene to protect a citizen."
Mitchell Hamline School of Law professor Ted Sampsell-Jones said Chauvin's conviction should give prosecutors confidence that a conviction of the other three is possible.
"But given their more limited role in the killing, obtaining a conviction against the other three will be more difficult," he said. "The other three officers will try to lay the blame solely with Chauvin, and those arguments will be more plausible than Chauvin's defense was at his trial."
He and other observers also say a second trial with the three officers would be more complicated than the first trial with just Chauvin.
"To put the community through the strain and expense of another trial seems like something you should try to avoid," Gaertner said.
The three defendants — and their high-profile lawyers — all have seen the state's case in its entirety and will have pored over the transcripts of testimony.
"It's like you're playing poker and your opponent has just laid all the cards on the table in front of you," Brandt said. "You can just imagine the circus it's going to be."
Each defense lawyer will have an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses and elicit inconsistencies from their testimony in Chauvin's trial.
Sampsell-Jones said it will be messier in the courtroom and "it'll be harder for the jury to sort out who is responsible since different officers played different roles."
Kueng is represented by Thomas Plunkett, Earl Gray represents Lane and Bob Paule represents Thao. All three lawyers declined to comment Wednesday.
To convict the three, the state will have to show that each aided, advised, counseled or conspired with Chauvin to commit "reasonably foreseeable" murder or manslaughter.
Other lawyers offered possible defenses.
Brandt said Thao, who wasn't on top of Floyd, can argue that he was focused on the crowd. Kueng and Lane, both new to the job, could argue that it wasn't reasonably foreseeable that an officer with nearly two decades of experience would murder Floyd.
Criminal defense lawyer Joe Tamburino said Lane has the best defense. During Chauvin's trial, Lane was heard twice on police body-worn cameras asking Chauvin if they should roll Floyd to his side so he could breathe. Both times Chauvin rejected the move.
Sampsell-Jones said the "video evidence isn't as clear or as damning" to the other three as it was to Chauvin.
Overall, Tamburino said the three "are in a much better position to defend their actions" than Chauvin was.
Tamburino said he expects a series of defense motions, including an attempt to delay the trial because it's now scheduled to come fresh on the heels of Chauvin's sentencing sometime this summer.
Tamburino said he also expects the defense attorneys to file motions to limit some of the evidence and testimony seen in the first trial, including that from eyewitnesses, experts and the video from body-worn police cameras.
Morial said a plea bargain with tangible consequences for the officers could be acceptable, but he said a message has to be sent to police officers that, "I better stand up or I could be culpable, too."
Attorney General Keith Ellison's office, which is overseeing the case against the three, declined to comment. Morial expressed confidence in him, saying, "I think the same vigor, competence and professionalism will be deployed by Keith Ellison and his team in these prosecutions."
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747