Former Minneapolis officer Thomas Lane pleads guilty to manslaughter in George Floyd’s death

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A former Minneapolis police officer has pleaded guilty to a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.

As part of Wednesday’s plea deal, Thomas Lane will have a count of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder dismissed. Copies of documents regarding the plea can be found below.

The state is recommending a sentence for Lane of three years — which is below state sentencing guidelines — and has agreed to allow him to serve the time in a federal prison.

Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, gave the following statement on Wednesday:

“The State prosecution has a mandatory 12-year sentence if convicted of the unintentional murder. My client did not want to risk losing the murder case so he decided to plead guilty to manslaughter with a 3-year sentence, to be released in 2 years, and the murder case dismissed. The sentence will be concurrent with his federal sentence and he will serve his time in a federal institution. He has a newborn baby and did not want to risk not being part of the child’s life.”

Attorney Earl Gray

He is scheduled to be sentenced at 9 a.m. on Sept. 21 on the state charge.

Wednesday’s hearing was streamed over Zoom for Floyd’s family members.

The plea deal was not a surprise to some legal observers.

“It really wasn’t surprising to me,” said Jack Rice, a Saint Paul-based defense attorney who is not affiliated with this case. “After the federal conviction, he knew he was going to prison and the question was just how long.”

Lane, along with J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, has already been convicted on federal counts of violating the civil rights of Floyd, who was Black.

After their federal conviction, there was a question as to whether the state trial would proceed. At an April hearing in state court, prosecutors revealed that they had offered plea deals to all three men, but they were rejected. At the time, Gray said it was hard for the defense to negotiate when the three still didn’t know what their federal sentences would be.

Rice believes the plea agreement on the state charges provides insight into what to expect for the length of the federal sentence. The agreement comes a week after Judge Paul Magnuson upheld the former officers’ federal convictions. 

“One of the things that was telling was Lane’s attorney said ‘Well he has a little kid, this means he’ll be out in two years’,” said Mark Osler, a University of St. Thomas law professor. “That assumes the federal sentence won’t be lengthy, and probably they have some sense of that from the back and forth with the federal officials.”

Both Osler and Rice believe there’s the possibility that plea agreements could still be reached with Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng. Both former Minneapolis Police Officers face the same state charges as Lane but they were convicted of an additional federal charge.

“The consensus is Lane was the least culpable of the four officers who were involved,” said Osler. “It could be that the deal he got isn’t predictive of what is going to be offered to the two remaining defendants – that they may be shooting for a higher sentence for those two than they were for Lane.”

Rice explained both legal teams are likely analyzing the costs and benefits of a potential plea deal.

“I mean, the question for these other former officers is this: Do you think they can get the same kind of sentence that Thomas Lane [may get] in federal court?” said Rice. “Can I somehow negotiate a plea that’s very, very close to that number or under that number? Frankly, in some ways, you’d be out of your mind not to take it.”

He went on to add, “There is a mandatory minimum 12-year sentence on one of the [state] murder charges, and so if you go down, you will go down hard.”

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Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, was in the courtroom for Lane’s plea hearing. When asked if his client would also take a plea deal, he replied “No comment.”

Paule also said “no comment” to a follow-up 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS request for comment.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS also reached out to Thomas Plunkett, who is representing Kueng. Plunkett said he is not discussing his client’s case publicly at this point.

Their former colleague, Derek Chauvin, was convicted of murder last year and pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights violation.

Chauvin was sentenced to 22½ years in prison in the state case.

The state trial for former officers Kueng and Thao is set to begin on June 13.

“See the words in writing — I’m guilty of doing harm — it’s validating, and first step in healing is acknowledging your wrongdoing, I’m happy he did do that, that he did say, ‘I’m guilty,'” Floyd’s cousin, Paris Stevens, said.

Stevens is also a co-chairperson of the George Floyd Global Memorial, which is holding events in the coming days for the second anniversary of Floyd’s death.

“Changed the face of the entire spectrum of the world, he accepted responsibility for what he did,” Floyd’s uncle, Selwyn Jones, added. “And that … you have to give him some prospers for.”

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison issued the following statement in response to the plea:

Today my thoughts are once again with the victims, George Floyd and his family. Nothing will bring Floyd back. He should still be with us today. 

I am pleased Thomas Lane has accepted responsibility for his role in Floyd’s death. His acknowledgment he did something wrong is an important step toward healing the wounds of the Floyd family, our community, and the nation. While accountability is not justice, this is a significant moment in this case and a necessary resolution on our continued journey to justice.  

– Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison

Attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms released the following statement in response, as well:

Today’s guilty plea by former officer Thomas Lane brings the Floyd family another step towards closure for the horrific and historic murder of George Floyd. While this plea reflects a certain level of accountability, it comes only after Mr. Lane was already convicted by a federal jury on a related charge. Attorney General Keith Ellison, all of the state and federal prosecutors, the brave men and women who served on the state and federal juries, and the community compelled this result. These individuals and many more should be commended for their efforts leading towards today. Hopefully, this plea helps usher in a new era where officers understand that juries will hold them accountable, just as they would any other citizen. Perhaps soon, officers will not require families to endure the pain of lengthy court proceedings where their criminal acts are obvious and apparent. It is equally critical that the municipalities who are responsible for employing, training, and supervising their officers take their duties to the community to heart, and hold their own officers accountable before a criminal court is required to do so. While today is a step in the right direction, we only need to look to the recent and tragic killing of Amir Locke to understand that the City of Minneapolis has a long journey ahead to regain the trust of its citizenry.

– Attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms

Communities United Against Police Brutality issued the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

“We are not surprised that Thomas Lane accepted a deal today to plead guilty to aiding and abetting manslaughter, the lesser of the charges he was facing. Given the weight of the evidence against him, including bystander video, he would almost certainly have been found guilty of all charges had the case against him gone to trial. As a result of this plea deal, he will be sentenced to three years in prison to be served concurrently with his pending federal prison sentence. In other words, he will get no additional time in prison.

“Through his lawyer, Mr. Lane expressed that he took the plea so that he would not risk losing the murder case and ‘not being part of his child’s life.’ We need to remember that Mr. Lane’s actions deprived Mr. Floyd of being part of the life of his daughter, Gianna.”

Communities United Against Police Brutality

The Associated Press contributed to this report.