MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who held his knee to the neck of George Floyd for minutes, will be tried separately from three other former officers accused in his death, according to scheduling orders filed Tuesday.

Derek Chauvin will stand trial alone in March due to the coronavirus pandemic while the other three former officers will be tried together in the summer, according to the orders filed in Hennepin County District Court.

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Judge Peter Cahill cited the limitations of physical space during the coronavirus pandemic for his order to split the defendants’ trials. It is “impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions” given how many lawyers and support personnel that four defendants say would be present. The judge added that, while the pandemic situation may be greatly improved by June, “the Court is not so optimistic given news reports detailing problems with the vaccine rollout.”

Cahill cited a request from Chief Judge Toddrick Barnette after last week’s hearing to reconsider having all four defendants tried in March due to space concerns. Barnette wrote that in his view that the courtroom could handle up to three defendants at once.

Earl Gray, former officer Thomas Lane’s attorney said the ruling surprised him, and that he expects it will help his client.

”It’s very beneficial to my client, Mr. Lane, because now we can try the case and focus on Mr. Lane and not Mr. Chauvin,” Gray said.

Attorneys for the three other officers declined to comment.

WCCO’s Esme Murphy spoke to criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino, who is not involved in the Floyd case, about the impact of this ruling. Tamburino says if Chauvin were to be acquitted it would make the trial of the other three far more difficult for the prosecution because they are accused of aiding and abetting.

“The three other officers have basically pointed the finger at Derek Chauvin and said, ‘Hey, it’s his fault,'” Tamburino said. “The state has said Chauvin will go first. Just the optics of that makes it look like Chauvin is the main guy; the other three, we are not concerned about.”

If Chauvin is found not guilty, some legal observers says it’s possible, and even likely, that the charges could be dropped against the other former officers.

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Earlier efforts by the three other officers to get their trial separated from Chauvin’s had been rejected by Cahill. Now the prosecution is weighing in, saying they disagree with the Judge’s ruling.

Attorney General Keith Ellison disagreed with the decision, saying “multiple trials may re-traumatize eyewitnesses and family members and unnecessarily burden the State and the Court while also running the risk of prejudicing subsequent jury pools.”

Ellison says, nevertheless, they are ready to go to court for that first trial of Chauvin on March 8.

Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed face down on the street. Police were investigating whether Floyd used a counterfeit bill at a nearby store. In a video widely seen on social media, Floyd could be heard pleading with officers for air, saying he couldn’t breathe.

Floyd’s death sparked protests in Minneapolis and elsewhere and renewed calls for an end to police brutality and racial inequities.

Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Former officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are each charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

Defense attorneys had argued last year that the officers should be tried separately, since each officer might seek to diminish their own role in Floyd’s arrest and death by pointing fingers at the other officers. Prosecutors had argued against dividing the trial, saying the evidence against all four is similar, the officers acted together and the public and witnesses should be spared the trauma of multiple trials.

Thao, Kueng and Lane are now scheduled to stand trial together beginning Aug. 23.

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Esme Murphy