Two former Minneapolis police officers charged with aiding and abetting George Floyd's killing appeared in court Tuesday morning to ask the judge to delay and relocate their trial, set to begin in downtown Minneapolis in two weeks.
Attorneys for Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng told Judge Peter Cahill it would be impossible to select an impartial jury in a city that just days ago marked the two-year anniversary of Floyd's death, reigniting worldwide news coverage of a police murder that started a reckoning over brutality in American policing.
The attorneys listed a litany of new developments they say could taint the jury pool, including the recent guilty plea from their co-defendant, Thomas Lane, the February guilty verdicts for all three former officers in federal court, the settling of costly civil rights lawsuits and public comments from politicians like Attorney General Keith Ellison. Thao attorney Robert Paule held up the Star Tribune's Variety section to the Zoom camera, which contained a story about a PBS Frontline/Star Tribune documentary premiering Tuesday evening following the newspaper's coverage of Floyd's killing and the aftermath.
"I've never had nor heard of a case in Minnesota with this much publicity," Paule said. "I don't know what other choice we have at this point" but to move the trial.
The prosecutor asked Cahill to reject the last-minute request, calling it a play at the same type of sympathetic media coverage the defense claimed to be lambasting.
"Very little has really changed since your honor denied previous motions," said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank. People across Minnesota know the details of the case, he said, so a change of venue would not make a difference.
"We have faith in the ability of jurors to take their job seriously and do it fairly," Frank said.
Thomas Plunkett, attorney for Kueng, said questions over jury fairness may be grounds for an appeal in the case of the fourth former officer, Derek Chauvin. Plunkett was referencing how one of the jurors who helped find Chauvin guilty had attended the March on Washington anniversary in 2020.
Jury selection in the case is set to begin June 14. Opening statements are slated for July 5.
Cahill said he planned to rule expeditiously on the motions.
Kueng and Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death. Lane accepted a plea deal earlier this month, meaning he will avoid the trial. He agreed to a sentence of three years.
Kueng, Lane and Thao were convicted in federal court in February of violating Floyd's civil rights and causing his death. They have not yet been sentenced for that conviction. In court Tuesday, the defense attorneys say they believe the sentencing won't take place until late summer — after the state's trial is wrapped.