MINNEAPOLIS – With Derek Chauvin convicted of murder in George Floyd’s death, activists and the Floyd family are turning their attention to this summer's trial for the other three officers involved in his May 2020 arrest.
All three have already sought to deflect responsibility to Chauvin, by far the most senior officer on the scene.
Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao face trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill ordered that they be tried together, but separately from Chauvin, to reduce the number of people in the courtroom amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the three weigh their strategies, legal experts say they are sure to be watching what kind of prison time Chauvin gets at his June 16 sentencing — as much as 30 years, though possibly less. Minnesota law sets the same penalties for aiding and abetting murder or manslaughter as for the act itself.
They'll also be mindful that it took jurors less than 24 hours to find Chauvin guilty on all charges. That could ratchet up pressure to consider a plea deal.
"The factual differences between Chauvin and the other three are what should drive this,” said Tom Heffelfinger, a former U.S. attorney for Minnesota.
Experts said the best Lane, Kueng and Thao can hope for is a jury of 12 people who think Chauvin was guilty but aren’t so sure about what roles the other three played. And they said the evidence against the three is weaker than the evidence against Chauvin, which provides opportunities for their attorneys.
“I would expect the theme of all three would be, 'That’s a really bad thing that Chauvin did. I didn’t like it. I'm not responsible for what happened,'" former Ramsey County prosecutor Susan Gaertner said.