Attorney for ex-officer wants separate trial in George Floyd murder case

©Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane, right, enters the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility Monday morning, June 29, 2020 with his attorney Earl Gray, left. - Glen Stubbe/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS

MINNEAPOLIS — An attorney representing one of the four former Minneapolis police officers charged in the killing of George Floyd wants his client tried separately.

Earl Gray, who is representing Thomas Lane, filed an objection Tuesday to an attempt by the prosecution to join all four cases in one trial.

“Thomas Lane enjoys the right to a complete defense and will not be afforded this right should his case be joined with the other three officers,” Gray wrote. “There are very likely going to be antagonistic defenses presented at the trial. It is plausible that all Officers have a different version of what happened and Officers place (sic) blame on one another.”

Last month prosecutors filed a motion seeking to try all four at once, arguing that the evidence is similar in each case, that witnesses and family members “are likely to be traumatized by multiple trials” and that the “interests of justice” necessitate one trial.

Lane and former Officers J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are each charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter in the May 25 incident.

Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, is charged with one count each of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Gray and Kueng’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, have previously noted that their clients were rookies with less than a week’s experience on the job and that they relied on guidance from Chauvin, a 19-year veteran and a training officer.

Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, has argued that his client was focused on controlling angry bystanders and didn’t have full view of his three colleagues pinning Floyd stomach-down in the street while Floyd complained that he couldn’t breathe.

“The defenses are inconsistent and the cases cannot be tried together,” Gray wrote in his filing.

Each defense attorney had until the end of Tuesday to respond to the prosecution’s joinder motion.

“Trying these cases jointly would ensure that the jury understands … all of the evidence and the complete picture of George Floyd’s death,” prosecutors wrote in support of their motion. “And it would allow the community and the nation to absorb the verdicts for the four Defendants at once.”

Managing community reaction is not a typical function of prosecutors, but Floyd’s killing promoted widespread civil unrest.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill will hear oral arguments on the joinder issue at a motion hearing Friday morning. He will also hear arguments on motions to move the trial out of the metropolitan area and motions from each former officer to dismiss the case against them, among other issues.

Gray on Tuesday also filed a motion requesting that the trial be moved to Washington or Dakota counties.

Plunkett had previously requested that the trial be relocated outside the seven-county metropolitan area, proposing Stearns County as a possible alternative.

Paule and Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, have also requested that the trial be moved out of Hennepin County due to media coverage and comments made by authorities that they fear have tainted the local jury pool.

So far, a single trial has been scheduled for March 8.

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©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)