MINNEAPOLIS: A Minneapolis judge set the trial date for four ex-police officers charged in the murder of African-American George Floyd for March 8, 2021.
The judge made it clear he did not want the sensitive case to become a media circus with the presidential election looming as protests over racial injustice continued to reverberate nationwide.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill warned the four suspects, their attorneys and state officials not to play the sensitive case through the news, even as one lawyer pointed out that President Donald Trump had already weighed in.
“I would like to see pre-trial publicity not include statements from family from either side, police or elected officials about guilt or innocence, or the merits of the case,” he told a court.
Derek Chauvin, the white officer filmed pressing his knee into the handcuffed man’s neck for nearly eight minutes until he became unresponsive, faces second and third-degree murder charges.
Three others who were with Chauvin when they detained Floyd are charged with aiding and abetting a murder. None of the four formally entered pleas.
Robert Paule, defending Tou Thao, one of the three charged with abetting the killing, said his client would plead not guilty, arguing that he adhered to police guidelines on use of force.
Paule also expressed concerns over prejudicial comments and actions by state and national officials that could impact the trial including comments made by President Trump, adding that more publicity could lead to a push for a change of venue.
Eric Nelson, the lawyer for main accused Chauvin, said he might demand the judge legally order people involved to remain silent. Chauvin, whose bail has been set at $1 million, appeared via video from the Oak Park Heights prison wearing an orange jumpsuit and a coronavirus mask. The other defendants – Thao, Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane – appeared in person.
The four, who were fired from the Minneapolis police force one day after Floyd’s death, each face up to 40 years behind bars.The bystander video of Floyd’s death stunned Americans and ignited protests and riots in cities across the country, sparking a national debate on racism and police violence.
An independent autopsy later revealed that Floyd died of suffocation due to the police officer’s pressure on his neck and cited the cause of death as homicide. The original complaint said Floyd was pinned by the neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds but this was revised down by 60 seconds last week.
The judge set the next procedural hearing for September, with all parties needing to assemble a massive amount of evidence.
Prosecutor Matthew Frank, an assistant Minnesota attorney general, said so far there are more than 8,000 individual pages of discovery and hundreds of audio recordings and photographs date-stamped in the case.