Appeals court hears case of former officers charged in Floyd death

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Attorneys for the state and for three former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd made oral arguments Thursday before the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

At the center of Thursday’s hearing was whether Thomas Lane, J Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao could soon face an additional aiding and abetting third-degree murder charge.

The issue of the third-degree count has been complicated in this case for Derek Chauvin and now these former officers.

Currently, the former officers are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.

In his argument Thursday, attorney Neal Katyal argued that the Court of Appeals must allow issues to properly ventilate in lower courts in order to get those courts’ views and argued that arguments made by attorney Deborah Ellis, representing the respondents in this case, must first be decided by the district court.

Katyal argued consideration must be paid to previous decisions made via the Chauvin case and former officer Mohammed Noor’s case. In Chauvin’s trial, the judge eventually reinstated a third-degree murder charge against him after the appeals court stepped in.

Defense attorneys argue that third-degree murder is an unintentional act and relies on a defendant’s reckless state of mind, but aiding and abetting must be intentional. On Thursday, Ellis reiterated this statement, arguing that although an accomplice could act recklessly, it takes more to aid someone with a depraved mind. Ellis argued that in this case, the principal person and accessories must have acted with the same mindset.

On May 25, 2020, Floyd died after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck.

Prosecutors say Kueng and Lane helped to restrain Floyd as Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down Floyd’s legs. Prosecutors say Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening for more than nine minutes.

Chauvin was convicted in April of all counts—second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter—and is awaiting sentencing.

All four former officers also face federal charges accusing them of violating Floyd’s civil rights.

The trial for Lane, Kueng and Thao is scheduled for March 2022.

The three-judge panel now has 90 days to make a decision following Thursday’s hearing.