MINNEAPOLIS — Prosecutors are seeking to try the four former officers charged in George Floyd’s killing in one trial.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank filed a motion Wednesday requesting to join the trials of Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. A trial date has been set for March 8.
Frank argued that the charges and evidence against the four are similar, that witnesses and family members “are likely to be traumatized by multiple trials” and that the “interests of justice” necessitate one trial.
“Trying these cases jointly would ensure that the jury understands … all of the evidence and the complete picture of George Floyd’s death,” Frank wrote. “And it would allow the community and the nation to absorb the verdicts for the four Defendants at once.”
Separate trials would cause delays, could taint potential jurors for later trials and would burden the state, court and witnesses, he wrote.
“In the absence of joinder, eyewitnesses and Floyd’s family members would be required to relive Floyd’s murder at multiple trials,” Frank argued. “Requiring victims and witnesses to relive traumatic experiences across seriatim trials is disfavored … ”
According to the motion: Minnesota rules of criminal procedure allow joining trials based on the nature of the charges, the impact on the victim, the potential prejudice to the defendant and the “interests of justice.”
All four factors apply to the Floyd case, Frank wrote. The COVID-19 pandemic would also put witnesses at risk if they must testify at four trials, as well as Floyd’s family members as they travel from out of state, he added.
“The trauma eyewitnesses may suffer when testifying about Floyd’s death, moreover, is likely to be even more substantial if defense counsel cross-examines them about, for instance, why they did not try harder to intervene to stop the murder,” Frank argued. “In addition to the emotional burden of testifying, witnesses will also face other logistical and financial burdens — for example, the ‘travel costs and lost wages’ associated with testifying at four separate trials.”
Several key witnesses are minors, the motion said, and are considered “particularly ‘vulnerable.’?”
Darnella Frazier, a bystander who recorded Floyd’s death in a video seen around the world, was 17 at the time. Her 9-year-old cousin also witnessed the incident.
“Ms. Frazier has been publicly shamed for not somehow stopping Defendants and saving Floyd,” Frank wrote. “She has been the subject of considerable media scrutiny. And she has begun therapy to cope with the trauma of witnessing Floyd’s murder.”
The four defenses are not antagonistic, meaning they are not blaming each other, a consideration in joining trials, Frank also argued.
Lane, Kueng and Thao are each charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.
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.
Lane and Kueng arrested Floyd on May 25 when they responded to a call about him allegedly using a fake $20 bill at Cup Foods. Thao and Chauvin arrived as backup. Chauvin, Lane and Kueng pressed Floyd stomach-down in the street while Thao kept concerned bystanders at bay.
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