The trial on state charges facing Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao will be pushed back to March of 2022, a judge ruled Thursday. The former Minneapolis police officers are also facing federal charges over the killing of George Floyd that outweigh state charges of aiding and abetting.
The former officers’ trial had been set to begin on Aug. 23. But Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill postponed it until March 7, citing federal charges against the three that were announced last week. The judge also said he wants to put distance between the state trial and the massive publicity that surrounded Derek Chauvin’s murder trial – which Cahill also oversaw.
“Bottom line, we’re not going to trial in August. We need space,” the judge said, according to a press pool report from inside the courtroom.
Defense attorneys for Kueng, Lane and Thao agreed with the judge’s decision. State prosecutors had wanted to keep the original trial date. But Cahill acknowledged concerns about giving them a fair trial, and he noted that jury questionnaires have not yet been sent to potential members of the jury that will hear the state’s case.
In the federal charges, Kueng and Thao are accused of failing to intervene to stop Chauvin from pressing his knee onto Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes on the asphalt last year. Along with Lane, the former officers also face charges that they showed “deliberate indifference” to Floyd’s suffering, by failing to provide medical care.
Kueng, 27, and Lane, 38, were the first officers to respond to the Cup Foods store in southern Minneapolis after a report came in that a customer – later identified as Floyd — had allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill to make a purchase. Thao, 35, then arrived with Chauvin.
A jury found Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter last month. He will be sentenced on June 25 – an event that will likely trigger a new wave of publicity and interest in the case.
During Thursday’s hearing, the judge and legal teams also discussed concerns about the leak of confidential information about a scuttled plea deal with Chauvin over Floyd’s death. The New York Times published the news in February; Cahill said it was egregious for the leak to emerge just before the start of Chauvin’s trial.
The report had stated Chauvin was willing to plead guilty to a third-degree murder charge, before then-Attorney General William Barr nixed the talks.
Thao’s defense attorney, Robert Paule, has filed a motion to sanction the prosecution over the leak. In court, he said it was the worst case of misconduct he’s seen in his career.
Cahill agreed that the leak was a major concern, and he urged members of the state’s prosecution team to submit affidavits stating that they were not the source of the breach. As of Thursday morning, Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank was the only prosecutor who had filed an affidavit.
Frank said his office can’t control all the agencies involved in the case, and he said he suspects the leak came from the Justice Department – an idea with which Cahill seemed to agree.
The matter is now largely shelved until an evidentiary hearing in August – and the judge left open the possibility that prosecutors, and perhaps even the Times reporter in question, could be called to testify. But he also said he would stop short of demanding that the journalist reveal their source.