George Floyd death back in spotlight as new trial begins for two former cops

(MINNEAPOLIS) — The 2020 death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer is set to be thrust back into the national spotlight as two former cops already convicted on federal charges of violating the 46-year-old Black man’s civil rights go on trial Monday in Minnesota state court.

The joint state trial for former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng, 29, and Tou Thao, 34, comes after they reported to separate prisons this month to begin their federal sentences.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to charges of aiding and abetting in second-degree unintentional murder and aiding and abetting in manslaughter stemming from the Memorial Day 2020 death of Floyd, which ignited massive protests across the nation and world.

The trial in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis begins Monday with jury selection, which is scheduled to take three weeks, a spokesperson for the court told ABC News.

Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to get underway on Nov. 7.

The state trial was initially scheduled for June 2022, but Judge Peter Cahill delayed it over concerns it would be difficult to seat an impartial jury given the pretrial publicity. Earlier his year, Thao, Kueng and a third defendant, former Minneapolis police officer Thomas Lane, were convicted on federal civil rights charges stemming from Floyd’s death and Lane later pleaded guilty to state charges.

At the time of his decision, Cahill said postponing the trial should “diminish the impact of this publicity on the defendants’ right and ability to receive a fair trial from an impartial and unbiased jury.”

Lane, 39, pleaded guilty in May to state charges of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. In exchange for the plea, state prosecutors agreed to dismiss the top charge against him of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder. Lane was sentenced in September to three years in prison, which he is serving concurrently with his federal sentence of 2 1/2 years.

Kueng, Thao and Lane were convicted in February by a federal jury on charges of violating George Floyd’s civil rights by failing to intervene or provide medical aid as their senior officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on the back of Floyd’s neck, while he was handcuffed, for more than nine minutes.

Kueng, a rookie cop at the time of Floyd’s death, was sentenced to three years in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release. Thao, who had been a nine-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department at the time of Floyd’s death, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, also followed by two years of supervised release.

Floyd suffered critical injuries when he was placed in handcuffs and in a prone position on the pavement after being accused of attempting to use a fake $20 bill at a convenience store to buy cigarettes. Videos from security, police body cameras and civilian cell phone cameras showed Floyd begging for his life and complaining he could not breathe as Chauvin held his knee on the back of his neck, rendering him unconscious and without a pulse, according to prosecutors. Floyd was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.

Chauvin was convicted in state court last year of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to more than 22 years in prison.

While Chauvin’s state trial was livestreamed gavel-to-gavel due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the public’s access to the courtroom, cameras are not being allowed at the trial for Kueng and Thao. Cahill ruled in April that conditions “are materially different from those the Court confronted from November 2020 through April 2021 with the Chauvin trial.”

The 46-year-old Chauvin also pleaded guilty in December to federal charges of violating Floyd’s civil rights and was sentenced in July to 21 years in federal prison.

During their federal trial, Lane, Kueng and Thao each took the witness stand and attempted to shift the blame to Chauvin, who was a 19-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department. Lane told the jury that Chauvin “deflected” all his suggestions to help Floyd, while Kueng testified that Chauvin “was my senior officer and I trusted his advice” and Thao attested that he “would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out.”

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