MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The judge in the George Floyd case has issued several decisions, including a ruling to try all four former Minneapolis police officers together in one trial.
Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said the evidence and charges are similar for all defendants and four trials would force witnesses to repeatedly relive trauma. Cahill also said four trials would put an unnecessary burden on the court system. One trial means that there will be one verdict day.
CHANGE OF VENUE DENIED (AS OF NOW)
Additionally, Cahill ruled that the motions for a change of venue has been preliminarily denied.
The defense teams have been worried about prejudice from the jury pool available in Hennepin County. Cahill says that because pretrial publicity is already on the internet and people from across the state have already been exposed to it, there’s no other venue in the state that would be a better alternative.
Cahill said that “prejudice is shown when a juror is unable to set aside opinion to render an impartial verdict.”
After a hearing where protestors jostled one defense attorney and damaged another attorneys car, the defense had also argued to move the trial out of Hennepin County due to safety concerns,
Cahill said the argument is more for better safety planning, which is already being conducted by the court and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. So, at this time, the court is not convinced that a change of venue is necessary.
Cahill ruled the court will rehear the change of venue motions “subsequent to the presentation of additional evidence and briefs on the issue.”
Court basically says defendants are welcome to share more evidence (they’re running public opinion surveys) and Judge will reconsider if necessary. Change of venue can happen even after a jury is sworn.
— Christiane Cordero (@ChristianeWCCO) November 5, 2020
Retired Hennepin County Judge LaJune Lange accurately predicted last month that Judge Peter Cahill would rule to keep the trial In Minneapolis.
“The pretrial publicity has been consistently spread across the state of Minnesota and across the world so that argument is muted there is nowhere were this case has not been discussed,” Lange said.
On Thursday morning, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said he was satisfied by the court’s decisions.
“The murder of George Floyd occurred in Minneapolis and it is right that the defendants should be tried in Minneapolis,” Ellison said. “It is also true that they acted in concert with each other and the evidence against them is similar, so it is right to try them in one trial.”
Ellison said the rulings reflect a “thoughtful application of the law” and is another significant step forward in getting justice for Floyd and the community.
Citing safety concerns, Cahill ruled the names of jurors — and any other identifying information — will be kept confidential.
The jury will also be partially sequestered during trial and fully sequestered during deliberations.
Partial sequestration during trial means the jury will park remotely and get escorted to court by Hennepin County Sheriff staff. They’ll go home each day with the warning to avoid media coverage and report any attempts to contact them.
At the conclusion of deliberations, Cahill says jurors’ names and some contact information “shall be made public only by the Court and on a date designated by the Court in a subsequent written Order. Anything not expressly made public shall remain confidential.”
AUDIO AND VIDEO COVERAGE OF TRIAL
In another impactful decision, audio and video coverage will also be allowed at the trial. It comes with limitations, including a courtroom that was rebuilt to make room for all parties and social distancing. Family, friends, public and the press might have little to no room aside from a pool camera and feeds, WCCO’s Christiane Cordero reports.
Minnesota has some of the most restrictive laws in the country barring cameras in the courtroom, so the broadcasting of this trial would be a first. All of the defendants had asked for the trial to be televised.
Ellison’s office tells WCCO it is “evaluating” the ruling allowing audio and video coverage in the courtroom. His office argued against allowing audio and video coverage.
That means as it stands now — Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng & Thomas Lane will have one trial in Hennepin County and we will be able to have a camera in the courtroom, meaning you’ll get to see the proceedings #wcco
— Jennifer Mayerle (@jennifermayerle) November 5, 2020
Thomas Plunkett, the attorney for Alexander Kueng was the only defense attorney who reacted publicly saying,” We are continuing to review the Court’s orders. My goal is to assure that a fair trial occurs for Mr. Kueng.”
Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white officer, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. Floyd was in handcuffs.
Floyd’s death was captured in widely seen bystander video that set off protests and nights of unrest in the Twin Cities and around the world. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and other crimes; J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting.
All four former officers are currently out of custody as they await trial, which is set for March of 2021.
This is a developing story, so check back for more. Follow WCCO’s Christiane Cordero on Twitter for updates.