(AP) — The Minnesota
Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Thursday on whether three former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd
should be charged with third-degree murder as well.
Thomas Lane, J. Kueng, and Tou Thao are scheduled to stand trial
in March on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter, with prosecutors seeking to add a third charge in light of a February appeals court ruling.
Based on the February opinion and a related ruling in the case of former officer Derek Chauvin
, the three-judge panel may rule in favor of the state and remand the case to the lower court to add the charge.
Floyd, 46, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck while the Black man repeatedly said he couldn't breathe. Kueng and Lane assisted in restraining Floyd — Kueng knelt on Floyd's back and Lane held Floyd's legs down. Thao kept bystanders at bay and prevented them from intervening during the roughly 9 1/2-minute restraint.
Chauvin was convicted last month of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing; all four former officers are also charged with violating Floyd's civil rights
In this case, the issue of third-degree murder has become more complicated.
In October, Judge Peter Cahill dismissed Chauvin's third-degree murder charge, stating that it could only be upheld if Chauvin's actions were "eminently dangerous to others" and not specifically directed at Floyd.
However, in February, a three-judge panel of the Appeals Court issued a ruling in an unrelated police shooting
death that upheld former officer Mohamed Noor's third-degree murder conviction in the 2017 shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
Prosecutors then asked Cahill to reinstate Chauvin's third-degree murder charge and add a count of aiding and abetting third-degree murder for the other officers. Cahill denied both requests, and prosecutors appealed. The Appeals Court then ruled that the Noor opinion set binding precedent, even though it is still before the state Supreme Court
Prosecutors believe the other former officers should now face third-degree murder charges.
“This Court routinely follows its precedents from the date of publication unless and until the Minnesota Supreme Court reverses them,” prosecutors wrote in written arguments. Allowing courts to disregard these decisions “invites chaos because it would allow courts to eschew precedent based on their own preferred reading of the law.... And it threatens to undermine public faith in the judicial process.”
Defense attorneys contended that third-degree murder is an unintentional act based on a defendant's reckless state of mind, but aiding and abetting must be intentional.
“To aid and abet third degree murder, an aider and abettor would have had to have intentionally aided in an unintentional homicide, would have had to have known that the principal
intended to commit a crime
, and would have known the principal’s subjective mindset,” the defense wrote.
Prosecutors rejected that argument.
Judges Matthew Johnson, Theodora Gaitas, and Renee Worke will serve on the panel for Thursday's oral arguments via Zoom