MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Court of Appeals dismissed the prosecution’s appeal Friday, Feb. 12, to delay Derek Chauvin’s trial and to try all four of the former Minneapolis police officers charged in connection with George Floyd’s death together.
On Jan. 11, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill ordered that Chauvin be tried separately from the other ex-officers — Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao — to better allow for social distancing in the courtroom. Chauvin’s trial is scheduled to start March 8, and trial for the other officers will begin on Aug. 23.
Prosecutors filed a motion asking Cahill to reconsider his order and try all the defendants together in the summer. They cited COVID-19 concerns and that it was unlawful to sever Chauvin from the other defendants. But Cahill denied their motion. Prosecutors filed their appeal on Jan. 28.
“We conclude that the state has not shown that proceeding with respondent Chauvin’s trial in March 2021 would ‘significantly reduce’ or ‘seriously jeopardize’ the likelihood of a successful prosecution of any of the defendants,” Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Tracy M. Smith wrote in Friday’s decision.
Smith acknowledged the public health concerns due to the pandemic, but said the court system has precautions in place to hold jury trials.
“The state also cites the potential for COVID-19 spread that might arise from activities outside the courtroom relating to these cases,” Smith wrote. “While we do not dismiss those concerns, we are not persuaded that the concerns establish a rationale for appellate jurisdiction.”
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the Memorial Day arrest death of Floyd. Lane, Kueng and Thao are each charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
“We filed the appeal two weeks ago because the State must and will always act in the best interests of justice and the people of Minnesota,” said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in a statement. “Seeking a continuance to protect jurors, court personnel, attorneys, and defendants from the lethal COVID-19 virus was the right thing to do and we stand by it. As we have said all along, we will be ready to start the trial whenever the court deems proper.”
Thao’s attorney Robert Paule and Lane’s attorney Earl Gray said they think the Court of Appeals made the right decision in dismissing the prosecution’s appeal.
Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson and Kueng’s attorney Thomas Plunkett said they had no comment on the decision.