Judge weighs motions to delay trial in Floyd killing

Published 4:39 pm Thursday, January 7, 2021

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By Jon Collins, Minnesota Public Radio News

The judge overseeing the trial of four former officers charged in the killing of George Floyd heard arguments Thursday afternoon for pushing the trial back by three months but did not issue a decision.

The prosecution is arguing that the spread of COVID-19 among jurors or other trial participants before many people are vaccinated could delay or disrupt the March trial. Prosecution attorney Neal Katyal also said that the expected public demonstrations outside the trial could also put protesters’ health at risk.

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At Thursday’s hearing, which was held over Zoom, Katyal said pushing the trial back to June would allow more participants to be vaccinated and still allow the trial to proceed speedily.

Eric Nelson, the attorney for former officer Derek Chauvin, filed a motion last month arguing that prosecutors had dragged their feet in turning over key evidence in the case and that more time was required to prepare for trial. He also asked for sanctions against prosecutors.

Not all defense attorneys support delaying the trial. Earl Gray, who is representing former officer Thomas Lane, said he objects to the prosecution’s request to delay the trial on safety grounds because a trial in June could lead to even greater numbers of protesters due to the weather.

Robert Paule, who is representing former officer Tou Thao, said he didn’t think delaying the trial due to COIVD-19 would necessarily make it safer for participants.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill had previously ruled that the trial could be livestreamed because the pandemic severely limited public access to the courtroom. While defense attorneys and a coalition of media organizations including MPR News supported streaming of the proceedings, prosecutors vigorously opposed it.

Paule said the motion to push back the trial was a “cloaked” attempt by the prosecution to change the judge’s ruling on livestreaming.

Cahill said other trials are proceeding during the pandemic. But Cahill said that he understood that the public interest in this case and size of expected demonstrations is unique. Cahill said he’ll take the prosecution’s arguments that COVID-19 presents a danger to trial participants and protesters under consideration.

Prosecutor Matthew Frank has denied defense claims that they had failed to turn over evidence promptly, calling them “nonsense.”

Cahill said he’d issue decisions on both motions after consideration.

George was killed on May 25 after then-officer Chauvin knelt on his neck for about nine minutes.

Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter. Former officers Thao, Lane and J. Alexander Kueng are charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

All four defendants were released from custody after posting bail.

Floyd’s killing led to widespread protests around the country, and unrest in the Twin Cities that led to looting and damage to hundreds of buildings. Protests during pretrial hearings in the case have also complicated logistics for allowing public access to hearings and fueled defense attorneys requests to move the trial out of Hennepin County, which the judge has so far denied.